"Look Kids, It's Big Ben..."
Updated January 16, 2005 (trip ended January 7)
Wednesday, December 29
I had originally wanted to visit Seoul or Taipei, where there were enough Starbucks to keep me busy for 10 days, the time available if I took the week between Christmas and New Years off. But by the time I had the money to book a flight, the only suitably cheap fare I could find was into Paris, and leaving the week after Christmas.
I booked two weeks before the trip, which gave me some time to figure out an itinerary in Europe. This was crucial because there were only nine Starbucks in France, not nearly enough for six days. After much research I decided to fly from Paris to London and then to Madrid and back to Paris. But then I discovered I couldn't find a hostel in Paris for the night of the 31st. Well, that made sense, since it was New Years Eve. I could have booked a flight to London for the 31st, where there were rooms, but I wouldn't even have time to get to Paris to visit Starbucks before having to be back at the airport. So I decided to go with the rental car, that I had previously decided against because of fears of winter weather in Europe. But I'd only be driving to England, and along a principal travel route, so I hoped I'd be okay. At least I'd have a place to sleep.
So a week before I was to fly out, I had a lot of booking to do. The rental car. The flight to Madrid from Paris and back. A hostel in Madrid. And I almost forgot to book a hostel in Paris for the night before I left, but I remembered a few days later.
I also had to order a new laptop, which I did a couple of weeks before my trip. For one, I had dropped it, and though it still worked, I was afraid something would go wrong while in Europe. And for two, the thing had been on the fritz for months, especially the LCD which kept flickering. If it went out while I was in Europe, I would not have access to my Starbucks data and I'd lose a lot of time looking up store locations on the Internet. The laptop arrived after I had already left for my Florida trip, so when I returned on Tuesday I only had a couple of days to transfer all my files over. To make matters worse, the power adaptor for my backup external hard drive had been damaged by water in the trunk of my car, and I had to come up with another way to transfer files. I could have bought another hard drive, but given the prices I decided to buy a 1 GB CompactFlash card instead. That meant many hours of transferring files 1 GB at a time, but I expected to need the car anyway once I bought a 7 or 8 megapixel digital SLR, hopefully before my next overseas trip.
There were also minor preparations, like packing for the cold. I needed a wool cap, for one. And fresh undies, for comfort. A second set of batteries, in case I had trouble recharging the first. I couldn't necessarily count on the miracle of the batteries that had occurred during my trip to London. A new power converter for the car, because my current one had also been on the fritz. What else--I novel, preferrably paperback, though as of the night before I still hadn't picked one up and was thinking I'd probably just take the hardcover novel by Michael Crichton.
I also corresponded with Starbucks partners at the London, Amsterdam, France, and Spain offices. They seemed to welcome my visit and, for Paris, provided additional store locations, nine total, and helpful information about which stores I should visit first and where I could get the mapping software I'd need.
I left work early on Wednesday so I could finish preparing my laptop, and so I could get to sleep early. I stopped at Best Buy to pick up a 256 MB thumb drive, for only $21, as a backup in case I couldn't connect to the Internet directly from my laptop and had to upload files from an Internet cafe.
Besides thinking about logistics, a couple of other concerns popped in the days before my trip. First I found out, after several days of what I realized were ignored calls, that Jodi had apparently broken up with me over something I had written in my travel log. Despite her protests to the contrary, I knew that she would decide to end it at some point.
Women people women people always disappoint you in the end.
I also had to worry about whether I would develop a sinus infection like the one that had plagued me during my trip to Japan. I was seeing blood in my mucus, and from two previous experiences I associated that sign with a sinus infection. As bad as it had been when I had a warm hostel bed to sleep in in Japan, trying to sleep in my car in the cold with an infection was something I didn't even want to think about.
Thursday, December 30 and Friday, December 31 as one loooong day
I had gone to bed right after the rerun of Lost ended at 9:00 with the hopes of getting up as early as 5:00 so I could both get my body ready for Paris time and put in some extra time at work so my post-trip paycheck wouldn't be so light and to ensure I didn't fall too far behind schedule. But as was common before previous overseas trips, I was anxious and could not fall asleep for many hours. I had set the dryer for 50 minutes, and it buzzed before I fell asleep. Then, just as I was drifting off, my mother called to find out about my trip and ask for some refrigerator magnets like the ones I had brought back from London.
And I kept wondering whether Jodi was going to try and call at all before I left and was out of touch for a week.
So by the time 5:05, and then 5:25, rolled around I knew I wouldn't be able to concentrate at work if I got up just then, so I slept on until about 6:30, still a couple of hours earlier than I usually get up. I showered real good, as I didn't expect to find one for several days when I flew to Madrid and stayed in a hostel. I packed mostly, leaving the final details for when I got to the airport parking lot.
As the clock "ticked" closer to noon, I grew more anxious--needless to say my mind wasn't 100% on work, but I did try to make some progress. The closer I got to completing my current task, the lesser the pressure when I returned. Around 11:30 I got really hungry and decided that a few extra minutes might be helpful, so I took off about a quarter of. Little could I have imagined at the time how crucial those extra minutes would turn out to be.
I had some work to do on my laptop during the drive, but I found out right away that the new power converter I'd bought didn't worry, and the old one was still on the fritz. I worried that this would affect my ability to run the laptop while I tried to navigate my rental car, and that I would have to lose time waiting at various Starbucks while my laptop charged.
I finally got a call from Jodi, and a bizarre one, because from her tone she didn't seem to realize that she had effectively broken up with me in her last e-mail. Oh, well, I didn't have time to deal with that. I hadn't spent all that time and money on the trip to have it ruined by drama.
Shortly before the Delaware line I ran into my first delay of the drive. I worried that it might be a backup all the way from the toll plaza, but it was instead a slowdown because of stupid drivers that couldn't maintain their speed while reading the highway sign. Traffic sped up again past the sign, but I knew that I was going to be in for some delays ahead because the sign had reported that an accident on the New Jersey Turnpike had closed all lanes. I had given myself an extra hour or so, but I had not expected a closed freeway. Thankfully, there was an alternate route, I-295, and an transition to the turnpike after 36 miles. But as I expected, traffic over the bridge and up to the turnpike closure was very slow. And because I-295 only had two lanes, not three, speeds were kept well below the 80 that I had hoped for.
The transition from 295 to the turnpike was very, very slow, and delays at various points along the turnpike caused me to start to seriously worry that I wouldn't make my flight. I pulled into the economy parking lot right just before 4:00 and wandered around a while to find parking, in ROW 31. I was relieved to see a shuttle bus approaching as I parked my car, and that it was far enough that I had time to give my luggage the once over to help ensure I had forgotten nothing. Well, I did forget my pillow, but I had time to retrieve it, and when I did, I decided to grab a heavy blanket too. I realized that I might have to dump either the blanket or pillow or both, but I hoped to give the gate attendants my puppy-dog eyes and get through.
The shuttle bus went directly from the first economy parking area to the terminals, skipping the second economy area, and this was a good thing because I arrived at the Air France line just minutes before they closed it. And this was over an hour before the flight, mind you. I learned my duffel bag, small as it was, would have to be checked, and though this posed a risk that it would be lost, it meant I would at least get to carry either the pillow or the blanket (or both if I was lucky).
Once I got up to the desk I was sure I'd make it on the flight, but I still worried a bit as the attendant experienced computer problems and had trouble printing out the boarding pass I'd need to get through security, and as I overheard the agent in charge communicating with the gate in a worried manner. But my situation was cake compared to the young lady next to me who not only had an extra baggage she would have to pay for, but another bag that was over weight by four kilograms. She seemed like she was about to break down from worry as she fumbled to take stuff out, because she had to be in Paris the next day, as she emphatically told the agent in charge who replied that she was not to talk to him that way. I didn't think she had been rude, really.
After all that mess, I arrived at Gate 46 and stood in line only to learn that the plane was not yet boarding. I called my parents and wished them a happy new year and site down to get my frustrations down in writing.
The flight was full, and I had lost my original seat assignment from when I booked online, so I got stuck between two other passengers. But at least one of them was a very cute French girl named Alison, blond and wearing a cap that seemed French in style, who did not seem to mind looking away from her copy of Le Figaro and chatting with me. I started out in French, but I soon stumbled across words and switched to English. She kept saying I spoke well, but I knew she was just trying to be nice. I was sure my accent was horrible.
I asked about New Years Plans and mentioned le Champs-Elysees, and she suggested the Trocadero. It sounded familiar, like the same place the Starbucks representatvive from Paris has suggested. She asked about my plans, and I explained that I would be traveling to London and Madrid too, on a "photography project". She asked where I was staying, and I explained how I had not been able to find a hostel (she didn't know what that was) and would sleep in my car. I was of course hoping for an offer of a place to stay, but that was just wishful thinking.
After reading a few pages of the Michael Crichton novel, State of Fear that I had brought for having failed to pick up a paperback, I asked her why she was living new New York City and learned it was because of her fiancee that she had moved to the States. Well, that answered that question.
To my left was a man, dark-skinned and possibly African from his accent, who had to be told by the flight attendant to turn off his phone well after an announcement had been made. Ah, there's always someone like that, isn't there. But he wasn't a complete jerk--he was very kind about letting me in and out of the seat and even offered me his extra juice. And Alison offered me the beef from her meal, so I was really making out as far as food was concerned.
Sleep, on the other hand, was hard to come bye. Despite many flights overseas now, my sixth, I just couldn't get used to the cramped seats and had the hardest time getting "comfortable". Alison seemed to be having a better time of it, and she looked rather cute as she curled up in the seat. Rather nuzzleable, in fact, and besides trying to sleep I spent much of the time trying to keep my fantasies in check. Ah, I do love those French girls.
As we approached, I noticed something odd. The information monitor that cycled through various maps and other information, including the number of miles/kilometers since departure, was now indicating a small number, and shrinking. I guessed that it must have been measuring absolute distance via GPS from the origin, and not the actual distance flown, and that we were circling back to the airport after having passed it.
I asked Alison if she knew of the FNAC closest to the airport and close to a Starbucks. She suggested that I might have a good French coffee instead. I smiled knowingly but revealed nothing.
We touched down shortly before 7:00 local time, and because I was seated towards the front, 17E, I was soon off the plane and through passport control. I sat down to write and noted that I should have put my plug adaptor in my backpack so I could plug in while I waited for my luggage. I was able to connected to a Wi-Fi network, ADP (Aeroports de Paris), but it required a fee. I was itching to post an update to my log and a photo of the first Starbucks I visited ASAP.
I started to get worried because almost everybody left with their luggage before mine arrived, but it finally did. I waited at customs while a lady's bag was inspected until another agent waved me through. I spotted an American Express exchange booth, and I knew I'd get shafted on the rate, but I needed to have some cash handy--61.32 euros for $100.
I wandered around a while and finally found the car rental section, and the Sixt counter, which was the local company that the American company Payless was working through. A few glitches--first, the attendant needed phone numbers, and since I didn't have a room in Paris and made the mistake of saying I'd be sleeping in the car, it looked like there might be a problem. But then I said I'd be checking e-mail, and the attendant seemed to be satisfied with that. Then my credit card didn't go through, because she tried to authorize twice the amount of the rental instead of the $250-300 I was expecting. I gave her my bank card and hoped she wouldn't give me trouble that it was a debit card, as many American car rental agencies do. But it went through, and I was relieved to have my car by 8:00 AM.
I almost forgot I didn't know where I was going though, and I had to go back to the counter and wait for the attendant to finish with another girl before getting directions to Saint Lazare. Then I got out to the car, something called a Smart ForFour, and I said "What the fuck???" as I couldn't get the car to start. I asked a passerby, but she was from Spain and didn't know either. There was no attendant in the nearby Sixt booth, so asked a couple of Avis guys if they would help me. One of them was exceedingly kind, not only showing me how to start the car but also how to work the gears and driving with me around the parking lot. The car was "automatic", but it still required hitting the shifter to shift up and down as per the indications of an arrow on the display. Weird.
I was surprised that, past 8:00 AM, the sky was still dark outside. Thankfully for my photographs, as I drove the sky lightened. Unfortunately, it was overcast, and I hoped the sun would come out at some point during the day so I could get at least a few photos with bright colors.
I reached Saint Lazare with only a few wrong turns and seemed to be getting a hang of the car quickly, and the traffic in the city was not as scary as I had been expecting. I had to circle the block to find a parking space, but I couldn't pay because the ticket machine only took some card called Paris-Carte. I decided to take my chances and hustled to the store. I felt drained all of a sudden, now that I had finally found the first Starbucks, and I considered napping in the car while the sky was overcast, but I couldn't resist the impulse to visit that first store.
The store was in older building, a hotel, but when I walked it it felt just like a Starbucks, with pretty standard decoration. I didn't analyze the menu too much at that first store, except to note that I couldn't find the filter coffee. Later the manager pointed out that they called if "cafe de la semaine" (coffee of the week) and placed it below the espresso drinks. The condiment bar was pretty much the same, with white sugar, "sucre roux de canne", stirring sticks that were slightly thicker, straws, and cinammon. The bathroom was clean.
The manager was expecting my visit and was very hospitable, offering me not just coffee but a croissant. I practiced my French some more, trying to stay in language as much as possible.
As excited as I was to finally visit my first French Starbucks, I was distracted by the fact that the travel adaptor I had bought didn't work, and I wasn't getting power to my laptop!!! Crap, crap, crap! I hoped fervently that I would be able to find an adaptor that worked at the FNAC when it opened at 10:00. I walked across the street a few minutes before 10:00, and I wasn't the only one anxious--about 30 or more customers also stood outside. A popular place, this FNAC must be. While I waited, I popped a couple of pain pills to counteract the headache that had been intensifying, for any of a number of reasons--need for caffeine, hunger, sleep deprivation.
After getting the French rendition of "Oh, What a Night" out of my head and then asking around I managed to find a cheap adaptor, 10 euros, and test it there in the store. I then found Microsoft AutoRoute, a whopping 70 euros, and headed back to the car, where I was pleased that I had not been ticketed. As I walked along the street, I did not quite feel that I was in a foreign country. Perhaps it was because written French seemed familar to me, with many words that I recognized--whatever the reason I felt as if I hadn't traveled any further than Canada. Nothing like the culture shock I experienced in Tokyo.
With the help of the map from the rental agency and the brochure from the Saint Lazare Starbucks listing all the stores in the area, I was able to find the Opera store with no trouble, and after circling some streets happened upon a car pulling out of a parking space. I asked a couple of pedestrians and one confirmed that the 31st was not a holiday, so I would need to pay for parking. The ticket machine wouldn't take cash, however, so I had to run down to the tabac/brasserie and get a 10-euro Paris-Carte so I could pay for the parking. I only gave myself an hour, so I hustled over to Avenue de l'Opera, trying to make a mental note as I jogged of where I had parked.
Settling into a Routine
Finally, power!!! Mr. Burns says "Excellent!" After introducing myself to the manager at the Opera store, I sat down and with great anticipation plugged in my power cord and saw that it started charging my laptop. What a relief!
At the next table I heard English with an accent, a pair of girls, and I asked if they were Australian. Nope, English. I still can't distinguish the accents.
I started installing Microsoft AutoRoute, and I guess it shouldn't have come as a surprise that, because I bought it in France, the text was in French. D'oh! I soon forgot about that though, because I found my first free Wi-Fi network and was able to get online!!! The network only gave 30 minutes free, however, and I rushed to get an updated up in spite of the constant distraction of all these cute, cute, cute French girls all around. Damn, but I was in heaven!
I snapped a few more photos and rushed back to the car, my parking time having expired. On the way I noticed security cameras on the avenue for the first time. The next store, Montmarte, was nearby, and as I turned onto boulevard Montmarte I spotted the Hard Rock Cafe and was able to take a photo of the city shirt for Michael in Houston. I felt more confident about just parking the car near the store, as I had not seen any parking enforcement, and when I popped into the store and asked for the manager the barista asked if I was Winter. The manager was busy on the phone and could not speak to me, but a couple of the partners asked lots of questions and offered me a Paris mug and directions on how to find the next store, in an underground mall.
Outside I spotted a souvenir store and picked up the refrigerator magnets my mother wanted. While I waited for the owner/cashier I looked at the traffic outside and felt that I was becoming more comfortable with driving in Paris.
Outside the Starbucks I spotted one of those public toilets that one has to pay to use.
On the way to des Halles I passed a money changing place and got a much better rate that back at the airport. While I was there I picked up some pounds for my trip to London, and I wished that the United Kingdom would go ahead and join the EuroZone already.
I amended my thought about getting used to the driving--I still wasn't used to the goddamned motorcycles that appeared out of nowhere!
Go Smoothly--Come On!
I learned that the next store was in a mall! Yes, there are malls in France!! I had not understood the partner at Montmarte when he explained I'd have to park in a garage, but when I reached the area where the Forum des Halles was and saw the parking situation, and a couple of meter maids ticketing, I decided I'd better use the garage despite the expect. I found the Forum store right away and got my coffee after a short wait in line. While photographing the store I noticed this odd sight in a nook on the ground floor--no way would someone get away with this in an American mall .
The partner I spoke to at the Forum store gave me directions to the Beaubourg store, and he said that I was better off hoofing it because if I took my car out of the garage I wouldn't find parking near the store. So I headed out to find the street, stopping at the FNAC to see about buying a plug adaptor for England in case stores there were closed on the 1st. But the plug looked funny to me. I was probably just remembering wrong, but I decided not to buy it. I continued on outside and promptly became lost because I had assumed the store was on Rue de Beaubourg itself and failed to make a note of the address. I wandered for at least 30 minutes unable to find the store, asking plenty of people if they knew, including a cashier at the Apple Store I spotted. While I wondered I spotted this cool structure--I learned when I got on the other side of the building it housed le Musee d'Art Moderne . I thought about maybe going on Wednesday since I would be finished with Starbucks and have time to kill before my Thursday flight. Anyway, I didn't take a photo of the other side of the museum, or of some other interesting things, because I was trying to conserve my camera batteries. Since my voltage transformer didn't work, I had no way to recharge the batteries and had to hope that the two sets I lost would last me like they had in England.
I was heading back to the Forum to get clarification on the directions when I stumbled across the Beaubourg store, where I received another enthusiastic reception from the manager. I don't know what the PR person had told the stores, but they sure were treating me well.
I got lost again trying to find my car, and that combined with my earlier misadventure resulted in a parking bill of 4.90 euros. Ouch!
It was almost 4:00 PM when I crossed the Seine for the first time (this trip) and found the Odeon store. Since I had eaten only a croissant, I should have been famished, but I just wasn't feeling it. Nevertheless, as enthusiastic as the staff at Odeon was, wanting to take photos and all, I decided it helpful to accept their offer of food, French toast, of all things. I was going to catch up on my log when the manager told me that the Velizy store closed at 6:00 PM, and that due to heavy holiday traffic I might not make it in time. So I quickly polished off my French toast and packed up to get out of there.
While I was waiting for some water, I took a look at the menu more closely and noticed some differences--fresh-squeezed orange juice, from real oranges visible behind the counter, chocolat viennois, and a praline variety of latte and mocha (moka).
Despite several wrong turns and long detours out of my way, I made it to the Vélizy store with time to spare, but when I mentioned la Defense, the shift supervisor advised against going. When he called to confirm the closing time, he found out they had already closed and would be closed throughout the weekend. On the bright side, I got to try out the Moka Praline drink not available in the states because Velizy had run out of filter coffee.
I made my way back into town to Montparnasse and found legal parking to allow me to hang out at the store and catch up on my site as well as charge up my laptop so I could go back to Opera and upload on the free Wi-Fi. Montparnasse had Eurospot, a network I'd seen all over town, but of course they charged.
As I caught up on my site I felt completely exhausted. It was not even 8:00 yet, and more than four hours to go until midnight. I really needed to get some sleep before trying to head out to Trocadero.
The Not-So-Best-Laid Plans
Despite my fatigue I couldn't resist using AutoRoute to plot the locations in the UK, something I'd wanted to do for years. I asked one of the partners about the tunnel and learned some disturbing things, that it could cost from 80 to 150 euros, and that I might need a reservation to cross. Not good, not good, not good!
I finished updating and headed back to Opera, arriving just as they were closing, so it was good I had gotten my battery nearly charged at the other store. I looked up the Channel Tunnel and discovered it was at Calais, not Le Havre as the partner at Montparnasse had said. I found a site on which one could make reservations. I found availability to cross to England on the 1st, but the first return date available was shown as March 1!!! I was sure that couldn't be right, but it didn't matter--I could take the risk. I could risk driving a rental car into England and then not being able to take the tunnel back. According to what I had found, the regular ferry, besides taking a long time, was expensive!
I scrambled to figure out another plan. I considered driving to Frankfurt, about 360 miles. In the absence of ice and snow, I could make it, but that was a lot of driving for 6 stores. I also considered just saying fuck it and chilling in Paris for two days. Then it occurred to me that I had simply assumed that I could not cheaply change my easyJet booking. I went back to their site and learned that I could, for just 10 pounds, change my booking. So I made sure Paris to London and London to Madrid were both available and I made the change.
By that time is was nearly 10:00, and I didn't think I'd be able to sleep between then and midnight, plus I was famished. The menu at a nearby brasserie was much too expensive, and not to my liking anyway, so I drive around and found a place that had one ham sandwich left over for 3.80 euros. Not great, but calories were calories.
I wasn't too far from St. Denis, supposedly a well-know red-light district, so I parked nearby and walked up and down. Lots of sex shops, and some hookers down the alleys, and creepy-looking guys, but also tourists, especially down towards the river.
Around 11:00 I started to head towards Le Trocadero, or so I thought. I was actually heading in the wrong direction, and by the time I discovered it was too late to turn around. From that point, what seemed to be the quickest route actually turned out to be along a road under construction and terribly slow. I turned off as soon as I could and wove my way towards Boulevard Haussman that led to the L'arc de Triomphe from which I could get to Le Trocadero, presumably by foot. Traffic started backing up in that direction too, which was to be expected, so when I thought I was close enough I turned onto some side street and drive around until I found a space where my car didn't look too obviously illegally parked.
It was almost midnight, so I ran as much as I could and ended up running into a crowd of people, not at Le Trocadero but on Le Champs-Elysees after all, less than a minute before midnight. People counted down, and then it got wild, with everyone cheering, fireworks in the sky, youths running wild tossing firecrackers, bottle rockets coming from the crowd, and everywhere phones, cameras, and video cameras. A heavy police presence too, but I imagined the number of police I saw were nothing compared to New York City. I had been warned that riots sometimes broke out in that area on New Years, but things seemed under control. At one point some bottle rockets seemed to explode down in the middle of the crowd, and I saw people moving away, but there was no riot.
Having experienced my first New Years in one of the worlds big cities (Houston and Dallas don't count), I left satisfied. I headed back to my car and drove around looking for a place where I could park my car to sleep and not be too obvious to the drunk crowds. I managed to find one, and despite the people walking by, cars, and constant honking, I think I managed to drift off. The back of the car was, of course, uncomfortable, but the weather was mild, which meant I didn't have to deal with trying to stay warm at least.
Saturday, January 1, 2005
The Longest Day Continues
Around 4:00 AM I think I had managed to sleep for maybe a couple of hours, and I felt more or less fine. I drove across the river and took a walk down St. Germain. Even at that hour the street had plenty of people walking about, milling about, and listening to music at bars and cafes still open. Cars were still honking. The occasional firecracker still exploded. A young guy looked like he was about to get his ass kicked, in a confrontation with a group of youths, while his girlfriend stood by and asked him to just leave it. Had he been defending her honor? When I walked past again he was on his phone--calling the police maybe?
I spotted a shop serving crepes and remembered that I loved crepes and had to eat at least one every time I returned to France. I had the one with nutella (chocolate), and my, my, my, it was tasty. Must... eat... more... crepes!
I made my way out to the perimeter and found the highway leading back to the airport. Got a little lost looking for gas, but I had plenty of time still. I found a place to return the rental car, but it was just befor 6:30 AM and the Sixt office was closed, with a sign directing me to another part of the terminal. The only thing new was a mug and some refrigerator magnets, but my duffel bag seemed heavier as I fumbled with it and the blanket and pillow to the D section. I found the rental car booths, and it was past 6:30, but no Sixt representative was there. Crap! I waited until past 7:00 AM, and then I decided I needed to get on the shuttle to Terminal 3, where easyJet was located. So I left the key with a note explaining how I needed to return the car early and expected to be billed for just one day. I hoped fervently that they wouldn't screw me.
Over at Terminal 3, I learned I had arrived early for nothing--check-in didn't being until 7:50. So I waited, and then the check-in for Luton opened up in another line. I had read on the web that the easyJet agents didn't seemed to concerned with customer service, not at the cheap prices, and the one agent that had told me I needed to wait certainly seemed to fit that bill. She could have at least told me I needed to wait in a different line. Oh, well, I made it to the gate with plenty of time, and security was easy--didn't even have to take off my sneakers like in America. I set up on a row of chairs to try and get a few minutes sleep at least.
The web had already reported on the rush for seats, as easyJet did not assign them, but it wasn't bad at all. Boarding took a while because a bus was required to ferry the passengers from the gate to the plane, but they boarded from both the front and back to get us on quicker. I quickly found an aisle seat and space for my things. The flight only last 55 minutes, and I think I dozed off just for a little bit, but the descent came much quicker than I had expected. I never thought a plane would land too soon for me.
I clear immigrations with a wave. A passenger seeming of African descent struggled with a cart as a female customs agent seemed to be grilling him. The male agent beckoned me into the room, and I set my bags down, expecting a search, but upon looking at my passport all he asked was when I'd be leaving. "I fly to Madrid on Monday," I replied, and he said I was fine (to move on). It should have been obvious, but I asked about a plug adaptor, and he replied the bookstore just outside in the concourse might sell them. They did, and for a little over 5 bucks, so that problem was taken care of.
As I left the store I spotted a booth for easyBus advertising a trip to London for 6 pounds. I asked the agent about it and he explained the bus stopped in some place called Hendon. He couldn't tell me if there were any Starbucks in the area, so I popped open my laptop, still with some battery charge, and immediately saw four stores in the area. "Sign me up", I told the agent. And not a moment too soon, as the bus arrived just minutes after I went out and found the waiting area. "Violets in my eyelets going red."
Back in the UK
I was thrilled to death to finally be able to plot the London stores on a map and see how they were laid it in the city. It made my task so much easier. Once we arrived in Hendon I sat on some steps and saw that two stores, at Sainsbury's and at the Brent Cross Shopping Center, were the closest. But passers-by seemed to indicate both were too far to walk. So I hopped on the tube station across the street to Brent Cross.
A sign outside the tube station pointed in the direction of the shopping centre, and some passers-by confirmed that it was indeed the Brent Cross Shopping Center (the only one in the area). I had to navigate under two primary roads, but signs pretty much led me straight to the center. As I struggled with my bag, pillow, and blanket, I was focused on thinking about lightening my load as well as worried that the shopping center might be closed. Once I got close enough to see cars in the parking lot I was greatly relieved. But my arms were killing me, and I pretty much decided the blanket, pillow, and anything else not essential had to go. So I ended up ditching the pillow, the heavy blanket, the lighter blanket, the car adaptor that was failing anyway, the protective cardboard around the Paris mug, the case for the AutoRoute CDs, the scarf, and the Jergen's lotion. I also planned to ditch the socks and briefs I was wearing and put on fresh ones from my bag, and possibly ditch on of the sleeping t-shirts.
At least the Starbucks was right inside the door, even if it did not have T-Mobile. I found a power outlet, but it did not work at first until I flipped a switch. I think I've run into those before, and they always confuse me. I chatted with the manager and learned that stores were keeping Sunday hours because of the "bank holiday" in the UK, and she gave me directions on how to get to some nearby stores that I could reach in time. Because of the holiday, I needed to make better time, but I confess in my weakness I sat down and rested for a bit longer than I needed to, as there would be plenty of time for sleep that night.
Before I left for the buses I stopped in the bathroom and ditched those funky socks and briefs. I usually saved my used briefs for Jodi, so she could share in my travels vicariously through them, but given our breakup I didn't feel guilty tossing them.
Plenty of buses were parked outside the center, and I spotted my number, but I had to wait for it to get ready and pull out. It was my first ride in one of those double-decker buses since my first trip to London. Another passenger helped me find the stop for Sainsbury's, which turned out to be a supermarket. Good enough, because I was able to buy some food, a banana, for all of nine pounds. I visited the store and then caught another bus down to Golders Green, where they had T-Mobile. Mr. Burns said "Excellent!" and I was finally hooked into T-Mobile in the U.K.!
In my excitement, I almost knocked the laptop to the floor when I caught my foot on the power cord. Fortunately, I felt it in time to throw myself forward, preferring to hit the ground hard than break my laptop. Duh.
BTW, did I mention that this new laptop, an Inspiron 1150, is a fucking brick. It's heavier than a motherfucker. Definitely need to replace it before my next trip.
I remembered to authorize my computer for iTunes so I could listen to some of my much-missed tunes, the first being Amy Farris' "Let Go", a song I coincidentally enough discovered at Starbucks. Then I took it back to the 80s, some old school shit, Boogie Down Productions' "Jack of Spades".
Stupid Programmers--Read a Goddamned UI Book, Will Ya!
I got on hostels.com and found what looked to the next-cheapest room and made a booking. But when I saw how much I owed the hostel I realized there had been a problem--it had not found the cheap rooms and assigned me more expensive ones, and the text stating this was small and hard to see so I clicked 'Submit' without realizing it. Bad, bad, bad user interface!!! And no refunds. Crap. I'd have to send an e-mail pleading for my money back. But first I had to deal with the hostel so they wouldn't charge my car. But the phone number shown didn't work, not on the pay phone out on the street and not on the cell phone of the gentleman that was kind enough to dial for me after the young lady seemed to ignore my request, and with suspicion. So I'd have to head to the hostel directly, but there was one more store nearby and on the way.
The manager told me to take one of two bus lines and get off in front of the library. But neither the passenger sitting next to me nor the driver seemed to know about any library, nor about the Starbucks. So I got off at the stop he suggested and started walking along what I thought was Finchley road until the street addresses threw me off. I headed in the other direction, and in my confusion about where the Starbucks was, I almost missed that fact that were was indeed a Swiss Cottage . A bit further down I decided there wasn't going to be no Starbucks down that way and turned around. Wholly confused, I was about to as a passerby about the Starbucks when he first asked if I knew where Abbey Road was. Yes, that Abbey Road. I didn't know, but my handy-dandy Autoroute Program found it, right near the Swiss Cottage as the young man had said.
The next passerby, an older gentleman, also did not know where the Starbucks was, but he seemed more eager to be helpful and described how far Finchley Road went. I mentioned that the address included something about some centre, and this seemed to trigger a thought, and so I said specifically some 02 Centre, which I thought had been an address. Nope, it was actually, the O2 Centre, as in "oxygen", and of course the man knew where it was--all the locals would have, big as it was. And I had passed right by and noticed the decorations out front. I had to walk about a mile up Finchley, but at least I finally found it.
I hated to give up the remaining daylight, but I was concerned about the hostel situation and needed to skip over a few intervening stores in order to head straight to Kensington and sort things out. The tube would get me there quickly enough, but I was a little miffed that I had to pay twice as much, 2.20 pounds, because the Finchley Road station was just outside Zone 1. As I rode, I hoped that hostels.com was just wrong that the dorm room I requested was not available, or that they might give me what was available at the same price, or even a floor.
Tired as I was, as I switched from the Metropolitan like to the Circle line I got this cool feeling of enjoyment--I was really enjoyed the fact that I was hopping across European cities in the same way that I routinely drove among myriad American cities. It was the freedom, I suppose, of being able to travel like that to the point where it became routine. Though given all the glitches on my trip so far, it was far from routine, but I could see forward to the day when it might be.
The convenience of being able to type up my log on the train was great, but I almost missed the annoucement that I was on a Hammersmith line train and not the Circle line.
When I got to the hostel I learned the information on hostels.com was correct--they did not have any of the cheap rooms for that night. They agreed to cancel the reservation when it showed up on their computers the next day, but I would worry until several days had passed and I didn't see the bill on my credit card. I headed to the Queensway Starbucks to get online and book another hostel. I had no luck finding anything cheap for both January 1st and 2nd, and then it occurred to me to split the two nights, staying that night at the $40 hostel in Southwark and then switching to the cheaper room for Sunday night. The cheapest room was, wouldya know it, back at the London Hotel Hostel. I figured why go through hostels.com, so I just rushed over there to confirm they had a the room. They did, but if I didn't book through hostels.com I wouldn't get the cheaper price. So I had to go back to the Starbucks. AARRGHH. While I booked Danielle appeared and said hello and sat down at my table, looking a little better.
Who's Danielle? Oh, yeah, she was a young lady, Brazilian, who had still been sitting at the counter when the Brit left. She sighed, and I jokingly asked if the music, "You Were Always on My Mind", I think, was getting to her too. She, very seriously, replied that she missed home, and then she started to tear up as she explained she had recently arrived from Brazil and been unable to find work, that it was her first Christmas and New Years away from her family. I felt a little uncomfortable, because I never know what to say when someone starts crying in front of me. Well, when a girl does. If it's a guy, it's obvious what to say--"What the fuck? Are you crying? What are you, a pussy or something?"
Oh, and the Brit, she was a girl sitting at the counter near where the power outlet was, so I had to ask her if I could squeeze in. As I looked for an available hostel room I commented that I needed something to go right today, and she replied that she knew the feeling--she had missed a flight to Mexico a couple of days prior and there had been nothing else available, which was why she was still in London. Despite her bad teeth, she seemed friendly enough as she chatted, except when she suddenly said something like that she needed to outside to get some air, not sit there all day, and abruptly rushed off. Was it something I said? My funk? The crazy look in my eyes that resulted from extreme fatigue?
Meanwhile, I had had one of the baristas call over to the Holland Park store to see if they were still open. Closed at 6:00. 50 minutes. Cool. Still time. I rushed to the Queensway Station to Holland Park, and it occurred to me that I had eaten nothing but a single banana all day. Yipes!
The store turns out to be the easiest of the day to find. I exit the Holland Park tube station, and it's right there. But, amusingly enough, the partner I show the letter to actually goes in the back to make a phone call, even though it's almost 5:30 PM on a Friday night and a bank holiday. He can't get through to them, but he just asks me to explain further and cooperates with the sample.
I could have had the partner call over to one of the next stores on my list, Baker Street specifically, but I decided to just try and see if I could make it by 6:00, the earliest I imagined they might close. When I exited the Bond Street station I saw the time overhead, 16:58--I wouldn't have made it by 6:00... had it been almost six. But I had forgotten to reset change the clock on my computer from Paris time, and so I discovered I had an extra hour of Starbucking to go. Given how tired and hungry I was, that wasn't exactly a "yay". Really, I was looking for an excuse to quit even if I didn't visit ten stores that day.
I thankfully discovered a discrepancy in my database regarding a store called "Oxford - Borders" in the city of Oxford, outside London, and the Borders store on Oxford Street. Because I had mislabeled the latter, my map still that I needed to visit, but I caught the error before I wasted time heading out there.
Baker Street had not even opened on New Years. Crap! Well, I wasn't about to waste another 2.20 pounds on the tube, so I decided to hoof it to Regent Street. If it wasn't open, I'd just give up and go to the hostel. I wanted to make sure I was walking in the right direction, so I asked some passers-by about Oxford Street, and they said it was quite a walk. Sure was, especially with the wind kicking up and blowing right at me. And once I got to Oxford Street and headed towards Regent it started to rain lightly. But it wasn't so heavy I had to stop, and I was really enjoying just walking down Oxford Street, packed with people as always, and one of those cool streets that always offered sights and sounds to behold.
I approached Regent Street and then walked towards where I thought the Starbucks was, I began to have a feeling that store might have been another mistaken plotting. The name Regent Street sounded familiar, and I could visualize having visited a store on that street during my last trip. But I soon saw the Starbucks sign inside an esprit store, and I was relieved, because it was definitely new, and the first pairing of Starbucks/esprit I had encountered.
I experienced a sign of my extreme fatigue when, upon walking into the store, I asked a host where the Starbucks was... in French! I remember one time in college when I was really tired and responded to another student's inquiry in Spanish, but at least that's my native language. Why on earth would I speak in French without consciously thinking about it.
As I explained my project, the managress, who was not French, gave me looks that indicated she thought me mad, but she smiled and obliged with coffee. When I commented on how I'd hardly eaten all day or slept in two, she said she could tell, that I looked "really bad". Was it that obvious? Or maybe she meant I smelled really bad but was just being polite?
The esprit store decided to close at 6:00 instead of 7:00, so I had to leave my precious Internet and continue walking. I decided I wanted some Colombian food from that restaurant from my previous trip, if it was open, and Picadilly Circus was pretty much along my route to the hostel, so I went looking for it. My visual memory of the location did not fail me, but while the Angus Steak House was still there, the Colombian place had been replaced, how long ago I had no idea. I asked the hostess at the Angus, but she had only been there a month and didn't seem to like the question, so I moved on and away from Picadilly where I hoped prices would be less expensive. I spotted some place called Deep Pan Pizza and popped in to ask if they sold by the slice. Slices were not on the menu, but the cashier said they did offer them and motioned for me to take a to-go bag. I said I wanted to sit down, and he suggested the buffet. I said I only wanted two slices, and he said I couldn't eat there. Maybe it was because he was being a jerk, or maybe it was because the restaurant was almost full and he didn't want me taking up a table for two slices. Either way, I took umbrage, and I almost left, except the pizza looked good and I was really, really hungry. I ended up taking three slices against my better judgement, and sure enough I was quite full after two and had to struggle on the third that I wasn't about to throw away given it cost 1.50 pounds = nearly $3. I saved a little money, though, by not buying a soda, and I experience, for the first time in my recollection, eating pizza without washing it down with anything. I took that as a testament to the power of the human spirit, that we can perservere despite adversity and adapt to the most grueling of circumstances.
After I neared the Borough High Street (for Southwark) my feet were just killing me. No, I mean they really hurt. No joke, man. I calculated I had walked almost five miles from the Baker Street store down to the Regent Street store to Piccadilly Circus to the South Bank and Southwark.
I found St. Christopher's Inn easily, but I had to walk further down to actually check in. Not usually a problem, 100 meters, but I was soooo exhausted by that point.
After some confusion about why the desk attendant had written something that looked like "4S" or "45" instead of just "4" on the card he gave me, I finally found my room, which was full of jolly people, two guys, two girls, Spaniards all, from some place called Alicante if I heard them correctly. Well, I did hear them fine, but it was the way they spoke Spanish that confused me.
Two girls, two guys--I imagined they were attached. But just in case my reality-warping powers manifested themselves during the night and I found myself alone with one of the girls on my top bunk during the night, I didn't want to be funky, so instead of waiting 'til morning I took a quick shower. It was very short, and without a washcloth. It did not meet the minimum requirements of a "shower of principal order", as defined by the Hygeine Council of America.
When I returned to the room one of the girls was sitting on the windowsill smoking. I thought about saying something, but then she finished, and I hoped she would not light another later.
Now Tell Me How the Fuck Am I Supposed to Sleep?
I suppose I could have slepted through the light's turning on and off, the chatting, and the music below, but in the end what prompted me to get up a couple of hours after hitting the bed was a maddening thirst. I asked the Spaniards if they had seen any convenience stores open. They offered Fanta and water, and even a Spanish term I couldn't recognize that I assumed meant liquor, but I politely declined, feeling like taking a walk. I dressed, stepped out, and then returned to get my laptop, deciding I might be in the mood for some writing. As I walked I felt more alert than I should have been given how little sleep I'd gotten. It had been 64 hours since I woke up on the day I left, and I could distinctly remember the sleep I had gotten. Just a few hours on the first flight, certainly no more than 2 or 3. No more than 1 or 2 in the car after the New Years Even fireworks. Maybe a few minutes while waiting for the flight to Luton, and maybe a few more minutes during the flight itself, and maybe a few more minutes in the room before the thirst hit me. All in all, not nearly enough.
I passed a doorway set in enough for a mattress to fit. I could have slept there for free, I thought. If I could have stood the smell, that is. And probably just until the true occupant appeared and started kicking me in the head. Or snuggling, which could very well end up being worse.
"Alert" though I supposedly felt, not all the brain cells were at work. After finding the convenience store it took me more than a few seconds to focus my mind enough on the drinks to make a decision. I settled on something called Lucozade, "brain and body energy". I didn't want caffeine, though, so I checked the label. Not there. Or so I thought. After taking a sip--it tasted pretty good--I looked at the label again and saw caffeine listed under "flavourings"--what gives. I also spotted something else curious on the label, "Lucozade is not appropriate for replacing the fluid lost during diarrhoea." Damn. If I visited 15 stores on Sunday like I hoped, I might need to replace those fluids.
Back at the main building I found a lounge where I could set up my laptop and write. I could have done it up in the room, but I was hoping I would be noticed--oops, not with my long-sleeve buttoned over my Starbucks shirt--by some cutie who... Nah, can't really say more about that, because it might be considered "offensive and disgusting".
I quickly finished the 380 ml of Lucozade and began craving more. I wanted to go back to the store, but I didn't want to pack up my shit again and lose my spot. I wished I could run fast like the Flash. I kept visualizing myself leaving a red trail as I got to the convenience store and back in a matter of seconds, but of course I couldn't make it happen. Well, I didn't actually try.
I kept saying things out loud. I worried that I would begin to scare the others. "Dont try it, cuz Jack of Spades doesn't buy it. He's a one-man riot."
I guess they don't make 'em like they used to. I go up to go into the stairwell to scratch my nuts (out of view), and my pants got caught in the already-torn "armrest" of the flimsy plastic thing that was supposed to pass for a chair and ripped the armrest wide open. Oops. "I got beans, rice, and bread on my shelf." What's wrong with that?
In the TV room, an old, old episode of CSI ended, back when Warwick was discovered to be gambling, and everybody cleared out. I made a comment about it to the guys in front of me--they didn't care. Someone put in a DVD of Underworld, a movie I had walked out of, not because it sucked, but because I didn't care about the story that much at that time. I considered watching the ending, since it was on DVD on a large-screen projection TV. Man, was I restless.
Actually, I think I was lonely, and not in a sexual way either. I wouldn't have minded chatting with some of the other hostelers, even though I had lots of work to do. I think I missed Jodi, though in a muted way. All feeling was muted by my sleepless state. Oddly enough, at one point I felt the urge to cry. I was sure it wasn't emotion, but just extreme fatigue. After a while I just went ahead and started chatting with the Germans-not-French-but-Germans for a while, and I felt better just to talk. Then I continued to write and listen to music, and the feeling of tears started up again. Just fatigue, I was sure.
After listening to the lyric who knows how many times (but rarely since the early 90s), I finally figure out what he was singing--"...now there's steak with the beans and rice."
I headed back up the High Street to the convenience store for some more of that irresistable Lucozade. I spotted one of those silver foil balloons heading toward me, and I grabbed it, perhaps for no other reason than that my reflexes are fast enough to allow me to do so. I held it as I continued to walk, and it was like a pet, like a dog, struggling ahead against the leash. Which was kind of odd, because the wind had been blowing towards me and now it was blowing in the opposite direction. Before I reached the store I set my "pet" free, and it promptly got stuck on a railing. I bought my luscious Lucozade, and as I stepped out of the store there went the free-spirited balloon up the street, off towards adventure and parts unknown.
As I headed back a man with a suitcase and a dazed look asked if I knew where the Borough Underground station was. Once again my trusty AutoRoute came to the rescue! Only, I wasn't exactly sure where I was on the map, and I had to hope that I had pointed the poor guy in the right direction, especially as I was getting colder.
Back at the room, the Spaniards were asleep. They had started up a card game before I left, and I had expected them to still be awake. A liquor bottle on the table in the center of the room explained it. A drinking game maybe? They wouldn't be up early, from the looks of it.
January 2, 2005
A Rude Awakening
I woke up once and thought I saw light peeking into the alley, but I wasn't nearly in a condition to get up yet. The second time it was clearly light out, and I forced myself up. 8:47 by the time the laptop booted, so I had only lost an hour of Starbucks assuming the nearest opened at 8:00 AM on Sundays.
I had walked down the stairwell three previous times, but that morning, as if to say goodbye, the ceiling reached down and smacked me right in the head. How rude!
There was a line for breakfast, surprising for a Sunday morning. So I waited for the slow toast to free up so I could have some unspectacular toast, jam, and juice. The pub, where breakfast was set up, was full, so I found a spot outside on a staircase. Against my better judgement, I balance my toast atop the glass of OJ, and, sure enough, I ended up dropping it. Of course it landed jam-side down, but at least it was only one of the two slices, and it didn't land on my bag and get it all sticky.
I walked towards London Bridge, from which I could see the Tower Bridge down the river, and found the air rather nippy. I pulled out my wool cap and was glad that I had taken the time to buy it before the trip. Because I had my duffel bag at my side, I couldn't put my hand in my pocket, so I pulled out my gloves. I could see the sun and expected it would warm up later, but not quite yet. Anyway, I wondered whether the term "nippy" had come about because womens' nipples stiffened up in the cold. Hmm...
I spotted the store immediately upon crossing the bridge and reaching Gracechurch Street, and I found I had gotten up right in time, because, with 11 minutes until 10:00, the store was not quite open. Waiting was not a problem, because my battery was charged, though the cold air made it a little uncomfortable to type while sitting outside.
10:00 came and went, and the door was still not unlocked. I pressed my nose agains the window, spotted a partner, and pointed to my wrist and yelled when did they open. 10:30. Rats! I headed towards the nearby Eastcheap store, but a family of tourists had already found it closed. Then up to Lime Street. Closed. I knew that the area of London known as "The City" was quite on weekends, but I wasn't sure how close to The City I was.
I headed back to Gracechurch, and rather than wait another 15 minutes in the cold it occurred to me to knock on the window and show my letter from Cliff. It worked, and I got my coffee and my laptop charging, but I still had another problem. The partner confirmed that I was, in fact, still in The City, and thus would encounter many of the stores closed. So I looked at my map and tried to figure out what to do. Finally I had him call Hayward Gallery, which was not too far away, and had a couple of nearby stores.
After a night's sleep and over an hour updating my site, my feet were far from rested. I walked towards the South Bank and quickly decided walking was not the way to go. I went down into Monument Station and inquired about the price of a Day Travelcard--only 6 pounds. I kicked myself. I should have bought one immediately upon arriving at Hendon, as I ended up spending 10.50 on transport.
When I reached the platform, who did I run into but the Spaniards, the males. What a coincidence. They were headed over towards Westminster to check out Buckingham Palace and the changing of the guard. When we got on the train I asked where the girls were--turned out they hadn't been traveling together. It was just a coincidence they were all Spaniards. I arrived at Waterloo Station and say goodbye, and one of them replied with something I just could not understand. A native speaker of Spanish though I might be, those Spaniards spoke really fast, and using terms that escaped me. I supposed it was not unlike some Americans with thick accents I'd spoken to.
I visited the Waterloo Station kiosk, and then as I went outside and headed to County Hall, passing the
Millenium Wheel London Eye on the way, I was glad I'd bought the TravelCard because it still hadn't warmed up, and the wind had picked up on top of the chill. Of course I was walking, not sitting like the beggar up on the stairs.
At the County Hall store I met the first barista who had heard of me (technically, "someone" visiting all the stores). He couldn't remember where he had heard, but he suggested a book, My Sister Is a Barista. I googled and found the book, but no reference to the title of the book and "Winter".
Okay, why the fuck am I getting the German Google site here in the UK???
Received an e-mail from a guy who had found my site and wanted to meet me. I sent him a map and list of the store I needed to visit to see if he could come into the city (from Guildford) in the evening after the sun went down (because I'd be in a hurry to take advantage of the light).
Need to watch for which songs I listen to. Songs that a bittersweet, or seem like they are (as any song sung by Springsteeen can seem) are not such a good idea after a breakup.
At the Hayward Gallery there was a line out the door because of an exhibit that was ending the next day, and because of the crowds the line at the Starbucks was accordingly long. Thankfully, once I got to the counter and spoke to the shift supervisor she had already heard of me and grabbed the sample coffee very quickly.
I crossed the
Millenium Jubilee Bridge again because Embankment was closer than the Waterlook Station. I spotted another homeless man, and I gave him a pound for a photograph. No, I paid him a pound--it wasn't a handout. I should have held out, however, because further down I spotted two other homeles men reading. At least they were making good use of their spare time. I looked at the second one and he nodded--I imagined he appreciated being acknowledged in addition to the handouts, maybe even more at times. Thinking about this, I almost missed the girl in the short, short skirt, "like a Friday fashion show teenager, freezing in the corner..."
I popped into a restaurant, the name of which I can't figure out from the confusing sign, to pick up a bagel, plain once I learned they didn't make egg/bacon/cheese sandwiches like in America. I noticed they accepted euros and dollars, and I wondered if that was common. I then popped into a comic book shop just to see what the offerings and prices were like in the UK. I noticed price tags stuck directly onto the comic books, which was something I'd never seen before, not in America, as many collectors are concerned about condition (residue). Hey, the bagel was supposed to be plain, not poppy seed!
The name Great Russell Street seemed familiar, but according to my database I had not visited the store. It was across the street from some place called the British Museum. I wondered if there was anything to see there.
At the next store I waited in line, then I waited for the shift supervisor, and then I waited as I watched her ostensibly go to get me a sample cup but then beginning fixing drinks, later going into the back. She looked at me several times, and I wondered what exactly she was doing, since it would have literally taken her seconds to pour a small sample of coffee. Finally I decided I couldn't wait anymore, I had probably already lost the time equivalent to one Starbucks and was going on a second, so I got back in line, waited again, and ordered a short latte so I could at least score some calories out of the deal. At 1 pound 59, or $3, I hoped that would be my last such experience.
From Tottenham Court Road I took the tube to the Euston Station where there was a kiosk outside, and then walked to the Euston Road store to reshoot a photograph that I had either lost, or forgotten to take, when I visited in '03. The store was closed, and as I sat outside and checked my mail a passerby asked if this was the "new age" homeless thing, that they had laptops. One of the more amusing things I'd heard all day.
I got on the tube at King's Cross and was intending to go to Islington, but the Highbury and Islington Station actually put me further north than the cluster of four stores I'd seen, but that was okay because there was one other store, Highbury Corner, nearby. It wasn't plotted on my map, though, so I had to ask for directions. The first passenger I asked didn't know the Starbucks but knew Highbury Corner. She said it was just outside but couldn't give me directions. I was going to ask the two Metropolitan Police agents I saw, but they were busy hassling a man who was protesting that he wasn't going to say anything. The race of the man and of the police are unimportant, but I will say that the man was wearing a light blue Adidas sweatsuit with white trim.
I tried asking a couple of passersby outside that ignored me until a lady pointed me in the right direction, and I didn't walk far before I saw the store. There I got confirmation of the four stores clustered down in Islington, and I made final plans to meet Chris and friends at Baker Street.
I wasn't sure which would be faster, walking down to Islington or taking the train, but I think I chose wrong, because my right shin was killing me. Despite this, I was running a little late and tried to jog some. I managed to visit three--the Borders one had closed at 5:00 according to the security guard.
I reached Baker Street just after 6:30, and Chris was nowhere to be seen. I figured it must have been traffic--he wouldn't come all the way from Guildford just to leave like that. I asked for the manager, and when she came out we started chatting about my project. Of all the managers I'd spoken, she seemed the most interested, but then the store wasn't very busy at that time.
A young man named Justin originally from Northern Ireland, but with a wacky accent from all over, overheard and took great interest in the project and was fascinated to find I had a photo of the Tokyo Starbucks near where he had lived for a while.
I was still chatting with Justin and the manager when Chris showed up, and later his friends after parking the car. They got some coffee and we chatted for a good while. Then we went across the street to Pizza Express (a real restaurant, not fast food) for some dinner, contingent on Chris's friend Anna's ability to find something on the menu without wheat. Anna, interestingly enough, was a singer/songwrite who would be peforming at the SXSW conference in Austin. I commented to them that, as far as I could remember, I had never met anybody back in the States who performed at SXSW, and now I was overseas and met someone.
During the meal, a seemingly homeless man entered the restaurant and came to our table, nearest the door, with a toy dog and went "Ruff, ruff" and asked for a pound to feed his dog. None of us obliged. Later, the man showed up again. I was surprised, because back in the States most restaurants would have been more aggressive about getting him out.
It was nearly 9:00 when we finished. They might have gone to a pub, but I excused myself and said my goodbyes, with promises to visit Guildford soon enough. I headed straight for the hostel and promptly forgot to call some friend of the family that I'd never met that my father had given me the phone # of.
For half the price, the hostel provided just what I needed, once I figured out where the bathrooms were. Well, not exactly everything--there was no soap, for example, but I had brought my own. They provided towels instead, which St. Christopher's had not. What I really missed was a mirror in the bathroom. I did not shave that night, expecting to do it in the morning, but without a mirror in the bathroom, and with the other dormmates asleep, I had to leave unshaven.
The room was empty, but I could see three sets of bags, and all three bottom bunks staked out. I promptly crawled into a top bunk and tried to sleep. After a while there was a knock on the door. I was a little confused, but I got up and opened it and learned that there was only one key to the room that we all shared. Since I wasn't going out, I left the key I had been given on the table and crawled back into the bed. The guys left, and drifted off until someone else came in, a girl, and I awoke with a start. Think I startled her when I jumped up.
Shortly thereafter, one of guys returned. He was from California and had a voice deep like Vin Diesel. I asked why he had come, and he said he had just needed to get away for a while. I jokingly commented that maybe when he returned they wouldn't be looking for him anymore. He replied that there was always someone looking for him. I wasn't sure he if he was joking or not.
I went to the bathroom where there was no sink, and when I returned the girl had just taken over the sink in the room. She started to brush, and so I awkward asked and pointed if I could use it quickly. I wasn't sure if she had understoof my English, so when she stepped out I asked Vin Diesel where the girl was from. Vienna, he said, and that she was a sweetheart. I wondered if he meant that literally, or if he really meant "I want to fuck her, so stay away". Nah, it was probably the former. I'm sure I'm one of few males who would think about cute girls like that in such a crude manner.
I noticed it light out about 20 'til 8:00 and showered and got downstairs just in time to be one of the first at breakfast. Once more toast and jam, but instead of orange juice, an orangish "substance". Despite my own rule, I was tempted to scoff at the calories, free though they were. Of course, the hostel cost half of the price of the previous one... wait, that's not quite right. My bed cost half the price, but there were more expensive beds, up to $75, and those poor chumps would be getting the same suck-ass breakfast.
I was into my second piece of toast when Vin Diesel and the Austrian came down the stairs and picked a small table, separate and seating only two. That playa, I knew what he was after.
An older Brasilian woman who had checked in just after me came down and sat at my table, presumably because she had recognized me from the night before. She was eager to chat, and I obliged her as best I could in between my timing, but I soon finished and had to excuse myself--many Starbucks to visit before the trip to the airport.
I took a chance that the cluster of stores I needed to visit in The City would be open and I bought a TravelCard for just zones 1 and 2. First I headed to the Baker Street Station, where I reshot the store from the previous night, and then over to Marylebone High Street, a store I had visited during my original trip to London but not photographed. Then on the way to Audley Street, via Oxford Street, I passed the James Street store and took another photograph just because there were no cars parked in front. Audley Street was a store I had passed several times during my previous visit to London. But because I did not have the stores plotted on a map, I did not realize there had been a store there. Well, I finally got it.
The barista asked if I needed something signed to prove I was there, and I said I would take a photo. When I exited the bathroom the manager, or perhaps the shift supervisor, was waiting for me, thinking that I intended to take photographs inside the store. I guessed the other barista had misunderstood.
The closest new store in the direction of The City, where most of my unvisited stores were cluster, was Chancery Lane. The transport agent said he thought the Chancery Lane Station would be open, but the train rolled right on by, and I got off at St. Paul. The nearest new store was Cheapside, which just happened to be opening its doors as I walked up. I plotted the names of the stores in The City and asked the manager if they might be open, and she said they would probably all be closed. Rats! I picked a nearby region and asked her to call one of the stores to see if they were open. Otherwise I'd have to travel to a different part of London altogether.
I'm glad I took the time to click each of the blue dots on the map I had created, because I noticed one of them was in the Liverpool station, and I correctly guessed that it was open that day. As many stores as I had to visit in The City, every one I checked off would make future visits easier. While I was there, I walked to the nearby store on Old Broad Street and took a photo--it was one of the stores I'd visited during my '99 trip.
On the way I spotted a Costa Coffee and, since I had a ways to travel to the next Starbucks, figured I try some coffee for comparison. But there smallest was over 2 pounds, more than $4 for me--no way. I'd wait until the dollar was stronger.
I also passed a group of kids skateboarding in the patio of a building closed for the holiday. One of them had a videocamera, and I wondered if this was the new thing for skateboard kids. One thing about them--they didn't look like punks. They were relatively clean-cut.
Meanwhile, my right shin was hurting really bad.
At the Cowcross store I shared a small table with another guy so I could use the outlet and keep my laptop charged. After I introduced myself to the shift supervisor I sat down to write, and I was introduced to the supervisor from the next store, Charterhouse, who happened to be there. The other guy on the smaller laptop, Jamie, expressed an interest in my project and asked a few questions. Then he went into talking about his hobby, making miniture knives and firearms out of metal. He was a goldsmith by trade, the first such I had ever meet. He was very eager to show me photos of some of the miniatures he had created, and I had to beg off after a few minutes to finish up some writing and move on.
On the way from Charterhouse to Clerkenwell I finally stopped at a pay phone and tried to call a friend of the family, but he didn't answer. Truth be told, I didn't really have any particular desire to call, as I'd never met the man, and, according to my father, he might not even remember who I am. Plus, I didn't see the point in calling up and saying "Hi, I'm in London, but I don't have time to drop by and say hello."
I stepped across the street to take a photo, and just then the bus, number 153, happened to show up. Had I snapped the photo right away in spite of the car stopped at the light in front of the store I could have made it, but I hesitated. As expected, because of the bank holiday it would be 15 minutes before the next bus arrived, but by chance the stop was in front of the Piccolo Cafe, and I figured I couldn't really go until 8:40 PM, my arrival in Madrid, without food. So I bought an egg and bacon sandwich, on something called ciabatta that I'd never heard of before. I think I amused one of the girls behind the counter, Eastern European maybe from her accent, the way I kept running in and out to make sure I didn't miss the bus again, and then to ask for napkins, and then to ask what the bread was called. Like a yo-yo.
The directions I'd been given for the bus took me to Angel Station, and so I was able to go ahead and visit the Borders store first and then take better photos of the two other nearby stores. I looked up information about the train to Luton and some information about Spain, and by the time I finished and introduced myself to the manager and waited for coffee to brew and then asked about Camden Town and then discovered the men's toilet closed, I had lost a lot of time and would be pushing it to just visit the Exmouth Market store, let alone any others.
I walked back along the route the bus had taken towards Angel Station and then turned towards Exmouth Market. I asked the manager about the best tube station to get me to St. Pancras, and a customer overheard and said I'd be better off walking to a nearby bus station and taking the bus. When I got to the corner, I asked a young man about the bus station, mentioning King's Cross, and he said the station was only a five-minute walk up the road. Since I might have to wait as much as 15 minutes for the next bus, I decided to walk. It took longer than 5 minutes, and I arrived at the St. Pancras station just in time to miss the 14:28, but that's exactly why I had given myself extra time. The 14:58 was scheduled to get me to a station near Luton in 33 minutes, and then 10 minutes to Luton. Check-in for the 17:10 flight closed at 16:40, so I had plenty of time still.
With 30 minutes to wait for the train, and a 30-minute ride, and having had coffee from eight Starbucks that morning, I decided to do something I had vowed never to do, pay to use the public toilet, 20 pence.
The ride to Luton Airport Parkway went by quickly. I continued on with State of Fear. Occassionally I would glance out the window, but the English countryside along our route brought only one word to mind... bleak. The only thing curious about the ride was when we passed through a tunnel and I felt pressure building in my ears. We were neither rising nor descending, so I didn't understand the reason for the pressure. The two Italians across from me either didn't notice or weren't at all curious, because they did not react.
After the fare to Luton I still had 8 pounds 55 left. I had researched the exchange rates, but not closely enough to know whether I should exchange my pounds in England, in Spain, in France, or back in America, so I went ahead and convered what I had to euros.
The departure lounge was a silent one, the first such I had encountered. That meant there would be no flight announcements--passengers were responsible for checking the monitor themselves. Even after I saw instructions to go to Gate 11 I remained downstairs so I could juice up my computer some more, in case I couldn't find a plug upstairs. And sure enough, when I finally went upstairs, none of the plugs I found worked. I was intent on having as much juice as possible when I reached Madrid in case I needed it.
After two nights of sleep, plus eight coffees, I didn't even try to sleep during the flight and just got well into the good parts of the Crichton novel. Despite the low fares easyJet did provide beverages and a magazine, but what I really could have used was a power outlet. I couldn't spare the power to work on my log or photos, but I at least had to plot out the stores in Madrid and my hostel, which took my battery down to around 60%.
At Barajas airport I slid through immigration control and reached the metro station without going through customs at all. The fare to the center of the city was very reasonable, 1 euro 15, and the trip was quick enough. As I left the airport and during the trip, and when I exited the station I looked around for signs of anything recognizable from my original trip to Madrid in '99, but nothing seemed familiar.
About 30 seconds upon exiting the Gran Via metro station I spotted the first Starbucks. It was a good guess on the marketing specialists part that I would find that one first, and she had taken steps to have the staff be ready for me. As soon as I said I was Winter from America, the manager knew who I was and presented me with a package, a letter of introduction, a map of the Starbucks in the area, and a mug. She was very helpful and was ready at hand to answer all my questions, taking the time to compare with me the brochure listing the locations in Madrid with the map I'd put together on the plane.
By coincidence, one of the baristas at that store happened to be from Colombia, and from Palmira even, the town where my father grew up.
As soon as I walked into Gran Via 58 the manager, or maybe supervisor, recognized me, from the photo he said. Back at Gran Via 30 the manager had said she had not immediately recognized me because I cut my hair.
I asked for the same sample cup of drip coffee as before, and I put the same brown sugar packet in as before, but this time the coffee had a very funny taste to it. I chalked it up to the sugar, maybe too much, and drank up. I started to feel queasy. I chatted with the partners some more about my trip, and also about whether I'd be able to find free Wi-Fi, and then I moved on to Plaza de Espana. As I walked, I felt more and more queasy.
I had tried to find an outlet immediately at Gran Via 30, but some people were seating near the only one. No outlet at Gran Via 58. And none at Plaza de Espana either. I was glad I had made the effort to charge up the laptop as much as possible, and I worried that I would lose time by not being able to sit at the Starbucks to keep up with my log.
I guess she saw it in my face, because the supervisor at Plaza de Espana asked how I was doing. I replied that I was feeling a little sick to my stomach, and she insisted I have one of the blends of Tazo tea, that it would help. I don't know if it was the tea or just that I sat at the store for some 15 minutes before having another coffee, but I felt well enough to move with just 15 minutes before the next store closed. Before I left, I downed an espresso instead of regular coffee, just to vary the taste. I took the espresso black, just in case it was the sugar that wasn't agreeing with me.
As I walked from Calle Gran Via to Via Princesa, I spotted a chain restaurant named Pans & Company something, and this triggered my first memory of my '99 trip. In fact, when I thought about it, Via Princesa also seemed familar. That might have been one of the streets I was on when I first visited Madrid in 1999, the street where I found an Internet Cafe maybe.
I reached the next store with about 10 minutes to spare. I asked the supervisor if he thought I had time to walk to Arenal by 11:00. He shook his head, and so I just sat down and sipped the coffee slowly, which was just fine with me. My next, and final, store would not close until midnight. I had time to chill and look around. Really the stores had looked pretty much like other Starbucks, more like the French and UK ones, with a lot of second stories. Like Paris, fresh orange juice was served, and so was the Moka Praline. The drip coffee was called "cafe del dia", coffee of the day, like in America, but situation further down the list on the menu like in Paris. There was also a toffee nut lattee drink that seemed familar, like from America, but I wasn't sure.
While I sat, a customer walked in with a small bulldog (if I remember that breed correctly). I don't know if it was against regulations or not, but nobody seemed to mind. Some people thought the dog was so cute, but I overheard one girl in a corner quietly say "que feo" (how ugly). She was right--it was an ugly little thing.
Eurospot seemed to have a solid presence at Starbucks in Madrid, but there was a problem--so far only one of the stores I had visited, the first, had power outlets, which would limit the ability of customers to sit and surf for hours. But then I'm not sure if Eurospot had an unlimited access plan like T-Mobile. The only thing I was told was that Starbucks sold a 30-minute access card for Eurospot.
Before I left I learned that the photo of me had not been e-mailed to the stores, but had actually been printed in a newsletter that circulated around. How about that!
Just like at most Starbucks I've ever been too late, the manager had to walk around and tell people it was past 23:00 and the store was closed. I had time before midnight still, so I stopped at a couple of places to see if I could see any suitable food, but nothing looked appealing for the price. I also spotted a shop simply called "Sex Shop" right on the Gran Via and popped in to see what it looked like, and also to delay that next jolt of coffee until the last moment. The only difference I saw from the few shops I'd been to in America was that downstairs, where the video booths were, there was a large wall showing the cover photos of 127 different videos, indicating the channel numbers in the booths. I popped a euro into one of the booths, very cramped because of my backpack and duffel bag, just to see how much time you got for a euro. Maybe 2 minutes at most. When I left, I dropped my wool cap, and some guy waved me down and handed it to me. But as I walked down the street I realized I had also left a couple of 2-euro coins on the armrest. Of course when I returned they were gone. Rats!
The manager at the next store was just as friendly and inquired a lot about my trip. I took an espresso again and asked about where I could eat. She suggested a place across the plaza called VIPS, and I said my goodbyes and thank yous and went over there, but the menu didn't look like traditional Spanish fare as a I though she had suggested. Given the prices, I decided to pass. I continued walking down the Gran Via looking around for some food, weaving through the crowd of people exiting the production of "Mamma Mia". Along the way I spotted something curious, a row of girls, all dark-skinned, spaced out in door ways, just standing there. No, not just standing, because I heard the occasional "psst" as I passed them. In fact, one of them started following a single man that walked by and tried to chat, and then patted his ass before letting him walked on. I figured them for prostitutes, but they were not dressed as I would have expected, and I wouldn't have expected them right on a main thoroughfare like that. I asked a couple of security guards, and they confirmed what they were.
Plenty of police cars were about.
Further down I spotted a seemingly homeless man fumbling with a pair of cardboard boxes and what seemed to be packing material in a doorway.
It was past midnight, and so I finally settled on some place called the Cafeteria Nebraska that had eggs, fries, and french bread for only 4 euros 50. Unfortunately, when I asked for just water to drink I didn't realize the waiter would bring me a bottle of mineral water, and I didn't feel like having to explain for him to take it back. And the eggs were sunny-side-up, not scrambled like I asked, and the French bread was not warm, and a bit hard. I asked a security guard about tipping, and he said 5-10%. I paid with a card, and I didn't see a space on the receipt to add a tip, so I just signed and handed it back. The waiter said something I didn't understand, and I thought he might have been pissed off about the tip. I wasn't sure. I left him some coins anyway.
I continued back down the Gran Via towards my hostel. The homeless guy was now inside the boxes and smoking. I offered him the coins I had left, just 28 euro cents, for a photo, but he turned me down. Don't know if he just didn't want to be photographed or was insulted by the small amount of change. Either way I was surprised that he turned the money down.
Further down I spotted a police car with the word POLICIA on the hood, but backwards. What was up with that?
As I neared where I thought the hostel would be and popped open my laptop to look at the map again I realized I didn't have my gloves! I had set them atop my duffel bag when I photographed the restaurant and forgotten to put them inside, and so they must have fallen. I was close to the hostel and my feet and right shin were really hurting, so I continued on, intending to return after dropping off my bags. I couldn't find the hostel at Calle de Colmares 5, so I walked around the block and found a phone. Because of the tip I'd left I only had 28 euro cents left, and I worried it wouldn't be enough. I put in a 20-euro coin and was able to talk to someone at the hostel long enough to ask him several times if the place was really a #5 Calle de Colmares, near Plaza del Rey, and that there was only one such street. I returned to the address, a door without signage, and there, on the side, very small, was a column of buzzers, one of which said Hostal Amanda just as the man had said.
Once more hostels.com had screwed me and reserved two beds, not one. The young desk attendant, whom I discovered, after a few minutes, spoke Portugese, and very little Spanish, only charged me for one bed, two nights, 27 euros, but I had already paid 10% of the total to hostels.com
I dropped off my bags and hustled back to the cafeteria, but the gloves were nowhere to be seen. I doubted just anyone had taken them. I suspected the cleaning crews that were in abundance, washing the street and emptying the trash cans.
The homeless man was now tucked far into his boxes, with the packing material in a plastic back sticking out. I wondered if it was for warmth or to hide his prescence from the police. I couldn't imagine that they would be fooled, but maybe they let it go by because he was not obvious to passers-by.
Back at the hostel I had the room, with three beds, all to myself, so I was able to dance around before changing and going to sleep.
It was still dark out, but I heard people moving around the hostel. I turned on my computer to check the time, and it was 7:59. I would have been surprised that it was still dark at that hour so far south of London, but I quickly remembered that we were too the west. Since I wanted to reshoot the five stores I had visited in daylight, I was going to go back to sleep, but when I went to the bathroom I heard someone in the shower. As far as I could tell, there was only one shower/toilet room for the men, and if I went back to sleep I'd probably have to wait longer, so I went and got my things, and my laptop, and sat down to write and wait.
To keep the weight of my duffel bag down, I had brought my Mach 3 razor but not any cream, deciding I would use soap, a trick taught to me by my friend Michelle during our London trip. It works better with liquid gel soap, but the hostel didn't have any, so I made do with my bar soap. No doubt the fact I had brought a fresh, unused, blade with me helped.
The "shower" was one of those tubs with an attachment, and small in size at that. There was no fixture for the shower attachment on the wall, so I had to hold it in one hand while I soaped with the other. Because of the cramped space, I had to contort my body to move angle showerhead to different parts, and when I did so I kept hitting the temperature control and either freezing or scalding myself. I almost lost my balance once when lifting up my leg--might have cracked my head in the sink.
Sure enough, there was a kid and his father waiting when I got out, and I'm glad I remembered just down the hall I'd left my laptop in there before they locked the door and stayed in there for a while.
Because of the trouble I'd had finding outlets at the Starbucks, I had to remain at the hostel and catch up on my log, but this worked out because I needed the sky lighter still for photos. By the time I finshed, it was past 9:30, and I was anxious to get a move on.
Oops, almost forgot breakfast. Once again, toast, really dry, and jam, and no juice. And I had to wash my dishes. I wasn't explicitly told, but I overheard one of the attendants complaining about having washed dishes 'til late and then abotu someone who left his plate on the table.
It was a great weight off my shoulders to leave my duffel bag in the room. In fact, once I started walking I didn't notice my right shin hurting as much, and it occurred to me that it might have been the weight of the bag that I kept on my right shoulder most of the time that caused it to hurt so much. Besides the weight, not having to carry the bag meant I could keep my hands in my coat pocket, more necessary now that I had lost my gloves. Quite chilly it was in Madrid, though the sun was out and gave hope that it would warm up/
I walked down Paseo del Prado towards Plaza de Canovas Del Castillo. I passed the Museo Thyssen-??? first and spotted a line of people waiting to get in, even that early at 10:15 on a weekday. Must have been the Gaugin exhibit I saw advertised on a banner.
Down at the plaza, the Starbucks was a couple of doors down from a Planet Hollywood--I thought they had all gone out of business.
The store, though only one store, was the first, and largest, in the city, and in Spain, and it had a power outlet, so I was able to sit down for a bit and write.
Next was Alcala, and as I walked there I worked out some numbers and decided that 9 euros for 2 hours of Wi-Fi was actually a decent deal, much cheaper than the $12/hr common at Kinko's in the U.S. (expensive!). But next to the Starbucks was another shop, BBG or something like that, and they advertised 1 hour for 2 euros 50, a much better price. Unfortunately access was via a code, and they had run out of cards.
alcala, discovered bbg, better price, 2.5 for one hour, but no cards, find another bbg near puerta del sol but only 5 euro card, just use internet, 1.20 for 30 minutes, can save card
From Puerta del Sol I walked down Calle del Arenal, and I was glad I had not driven to Madrid. Traffic was a mess, hardly moving, and I made a note to slap myself if I ever had the thought of driving around central Madrid during a weekday (or maybe even a weekend). The manager was one of the most enthusiastic I had met on my trip. He prepared a French press, intending to sit down and chat with me, but then the store got busy. I remembered finally to ask about the Spanish version of the Christmas t-shirt I had seen, but I learned they had printed only enough for the existing partners, and not extras. The manager offered me his, but I didn't collect them badly enough to take his. I figured I could get one in some future year. And darn it, I had forgotten to ask in Paris.
From Arenal I walked up the extremely pedestrian-packed Plaza del Celenque towards Gran Via to reshoot the five stores I had visited the previous night. Gran Via was just insane during the day--even the good number of police had trouble managing the cars and people. I knew right away that I would have to reshoot all these stores in the middle of the summer some year, when the sun came up earlier, to get anything like clean shots.
I was supposed to reshoot the five stores very quickly, but because of the pedestrian traffic, and the time it took to go back and forth across the street because of the traffic, I lost a lot of time. But finally I finished, at Via Princesa, and when I opened my laptop to look at the route to Principe Pio I found a free network and was able to connected, but not upload any files.
I had been told the Principe Pio shopping center was near the metro station, but according to my map it was relatively close to Via Princesa where I was so I decided to walk. Even after asking a few people to point me in the right direction, I went the wrong way. However, I did stumble across a souvenir shop and picked up some magnets for my mother. Then on the way back to the correct street I spotted los Jardines de Sabatini, one of the attractions I visited in '99.
I found the correct street, but the shopping center was much further down than I had though. I kept thinking, just past the next block, but I had to keep walking and walking. At least it was downhill. I finally spotted it, around a corner, but I experienced little relief, as my right shin hurt so badly that I was beginning to doubt the viability of finishing the stores in the city proper that day.
As I entered, I immediately noticed on the glass doors symbols prohibiting various things, including photography. I hoped that would not be problem and began scanning for security guards and police.
I went upstairs where the restaurants were to find a bathroom, but it was downstairs. Then upstairs to find the Starbucks, but it was down two flights. Each time my right let hit a staircase it was like a fire shot up my shin.
I sat at Starbucks for a bit and chatted with the manager and a barista and let my let settle down, and then I stepped out to take the photo. Scanning, scanning, scanning. There... security guard. Two. Upstairs. Don't let them see the camera! Duck and weave, move out of sight. Find the angle, find the angle. There it is. Pull it out quickly, shoot, back in the pocket. Slide on out of the center. Whew.
One of the baristas had given a recommendation on how to get to Fuencarral, a couple of metro lines to Callao. He was a little off. I should have gone as far as Gran Via instead, and so I walked some more. As I walked up Fuencarral I kept looking for food, half ready to sit down somewhere, and half wanting to just grab some light calories to go and defer a sit-down dinner until the sun had set.
I had only to mention that the coffee was affecting me because I had not eaten, and the supervisor immediately offered me something to eat. He suggested something specific to Spain, called un miniroscon de reyes, mini because the original roscon is large, shared by families during the Spanish holiday "Dia de reyes". The pastry resembled a bagel, but covered with fruit and nuts, and with cream. And in the center was a treat, a small figurine of a jazz player.
I added too much sugar to the coffee and started to feel that same nauseated feeling as the previous night. It must have been the sugar, then. Fixed it by having the barista add a little more coffee. "Needs more salt." "That's easy." "Need's less salt." "Oh, that's hard."
The store had an outlet, and I charged up while I ate my pastry, and further more I was able to connect to a free network and actually upload a file, but not photos, before I lost the connection. A girl sat down, and I was about to ask her whether it was "dia de reyes" or "fiesta de reyes", and she quickly said, in English, "I don't speak Spanish." She was German, from Leipzig, on holiday, and very much a fan of Starbucks, which has not reached Leipzig.
Further up Fuencarral, the store had something curious, a wall papered in post-it notes listing people's wishes for the selfsame "dia de reyes". And the coffee, too--it was Christmas blend, like I'd been having all day, but there was a distinctly different taste to it.
Everyone in Madrid seems to say "vale" all the time. Or "vale, vale". Or even "vale, vale, vale!"
I chatted with the manager quite a bit until the store got busy all of a sudden, but before she went back behind the counter she surprised me with the cheek thing, for two kisses, the way the Spanish do it. I thought it was for people that knew each other better than just having met.
Did that girl blow a kiss at me??? Or was that some type of insult? Or...?
All the taxis seem to be white with a red strip and the same logo--is there only one company?
"Madrid limpia es capital" seems to be a slogan they take seriously--lime-green clad waste disposal and cleaning personal seem to be working all over the city day and night. Sidewalksweepers, even.
I stopped at the Hard Rock Cafe for a photo of the city shirt for Michael, and there were skateboard kids on the plaza out in front, again with a video camera. Was this the new thing?
Outside, some guy was taking a photo of the Hard Rock Cafe. Now why the hell would someone go all the way to Madrid just to photograph an HRC???
Fuck, fuck, fuck. A really odd tingling in that right leg, above the shin, like on my calf, underneath, radiating out periodically. Not good, not good, not good.
From Paseo de la Castellana I turned onto Calle de Jose Ortega y Gasset, and it was uphill! I'd gotten lucky so far with level or downhill streets, and then the metro back up, but this time I couldn't avoid trudging a few blocks, very, very sloooowly.
The staff there recognized me from the photo, and I got to the see the piece that had been written about my visit in the internal Spanish magazine. Once again they gave me Christmas blend, and I was sure it tasted different than what I had received at Fuencarral. There was no question about it.
At the next store, Calle de Serrano, I once again sat to rest my let and started to think. It was about 5:00 PM and not yet dark, and I had visited 13 stores, with two more nearby. I might have time to spare after visiting the final four stores, and more than half a day in Paris. So I started thinking about adding yet another destination to my trip. Vienna was at the top of my list, because I'd recently read an article about how Starbucks hadn't done so well there, and how two locations had already closed in the city, and I was worried they might pull out of the market before I arrived as in the case of Israel. I figured the easyJet change fee of 10 pounds wasn't so much, and I might be able to add some city for about $100. I mean, with all that spare time, at night, if I managed to get some rest, I'd probably waste the equivalent amount of money on a girl, a good meal, or attractions in Paris, so why not spend it on airfare?
So as I headed to Calle de Velasquez I looked around for an Internet cafe. Across from the Starbucks was a place that resembled a Kinko's, and $2 for 1/2 hour was not bad at all, but using the Internet, and many of the services, required purchase of a card that cost 50 euro cents. It seems silly yes, that I was unwilling to buy such a card (since I was leaving Spain) for less than a dollar when I was willing to spend $100 or more on airfare, but I'm cheap that way.
I stayed just a minute at the Velasquez store so that I could reach Calle de Orenses while it was still light out. Didn't make it. Didn't care. Was tired and hungry and a little relieved that the manager recognized me, provided a sample, but was too busy with customers to chat. I just wanted to sit a spell and chill out before heading out to find food.
back to hostel so can get early start
I had my heart set on finding some Spanish food before I left the city, but I was so tired I decided to settle on the Colombia restaurant near the hostel. But when I arrived I found it closed, and in fact I saw a man locking up and walking away. Darn it, just missed it! I had to eat, so I went walking down Calle de Alcala, where I'd been told I could find typical restaurants. Nope, nothing. I walked all the way to Puerta del Sol and then down some other streets and finally stumbled across a few restaurants. I looked at the menus and settled on a place, Parrilla el Manatial, that offered something called fabada asturiana (Asturian beans and meat stew). The dinner was good, although I was a little miffed at first when I didn't find any beef in the stew, just pork rind and a couple of types of sausage. I thought the menu said "beef stew". But when I left I noticed it actually said "meat".
The manager of one of the stores in the area had asked me to come by again, and I hated to disappoint, but I was beat, and I wanted to get an early start the next day to ensure time to visit the final four stores. When I got back, I wasn't at all surprised to find a blister, only that it wasn't bigger. I was never one for baths or soaking, but my feet in a basin of hot water sure looked good.
I slept, and after some time I thought I her a knock on the door. Then it opened, and the desk attendant explained that some kid had shown up without a place to stay, and did I mind if he stayed in the room that had two free beds. I was confused, as I had paid for a dorm room, not a private room. I said sure and rolled over. The only thing I minded was that the attendant kept calling me "chico". And I was a little worried that whoever arrived would be annoyed by my teeth grinding. My teeth are so loud that
knock on door, use room, calling me "chico", but i only paid for a bed, not room, don't midn sharing but grind teeth, prefer more, put computer under bed and pants under pillow
I noticed the 5-euro bill is smaller than the 10 and 20. I wonder why? To save paper? Kind of inconvenient, regardless.
I was up at 7:47, showered, packed, and out very quickly to the nearest metro station. I asked the booth attendant about Pozuelo, and he knew at least that I needed to travel to the Moncloa station. When I arrived, I asked that booth attendant, and he told me the exact route to take, #658, to Centro Empresario La Finca, a complex south of Pozuela that I would equate to an industrial park--back in the States Starbucks had several locations in industrial parks around the country.
The district manager happened to be in the store, and so I got to ask some of the questions I'd been wondering about. At the time there were three districts in Madrid, one of which spanned Seville, and two in Barcelona. And what I most wanted to know, that Starbucks in Spain partnered with a company called VIPS. I don't what what all VIPS operates, but it includes a chain of restaurants and stores that sell books, magazines, toys I think, food, and I'm not sure what else. VIPS is also the partner for Starbucks in Paris, but were not any VIPS locations in Paris as of 2004.
Since I only had to visit four locations before leaving, I tried the cafe con leche, with it washing down the food offering, a chapata de jamon serrano y queso machengo. Basically, a ham sandwich, on a special type of bread, and with cheese from La Mancha.
The manager was kind enough to let me plug in behind the counter while I updated my log and photos, and by the time I was finished the district manager had to deliver some merchandise to other locations, and he was kind enough to give me a lift to a metro station, Aluche, from which I could reach Parque Norte.
One of the partners at La Finaca was an freelance artist, and when she saw my photo in the internal magazine she put together this minature "wanted" poster that she gave me.
Meanwhile, I encountered another Wi-Fi network, run by the local phone company, Telefonica.
Finally remembered to photograph myself in Europe, but unfortunately there's really nothing in the photo to indicate that I'm not in Anytown, USA, unless you just happen to recognize La Finca.
Even with DMs help, by the time I arrived at the Arturio Soria station it was past 12:00. Upon exiting, I was immediately disoriented and unsure of which was was north. My leg still hurt, so rather walk to end of the street and look at my map I asked a lady. After some back and forth we determined what the right direction was. I was a little miffed that I hadn't been able to use the sun to orient myself. It was worthless. I needed a compass.
As I walked it occurred to me that I had seen very few SUVs, minivans, and, as far as I could remember, not a single pickup truck, on the streets of Madrid, or Paris for that matter. Most of the cars were small. Americans sure could stand to take a page from the Europeans on this one. I'm sure many a parent would probably argue she needs the SUV for the kids, but Europeans have children too, don't they?
The walk up Calle de Arturio Soria takes much longer than I had imagine. I finally reach Calle de Serrano Galvache it occurs to me that the district manager had told me it was a five minute bus ride, not a five-minute walk, and I had forgotten. I had wasted almost an hour, and all the time I had to visit the final two stores was starting to disappear. Almost 1:00 when I reached Parque Norte, and that left me 3 hours and 20 minutes before check-in for my flight closed. The barista assured me I would have time to reach Diversia. By the time I finished my toffee nut latte and chatted with the manager and then got on the first bus it was 1:15, and the clock started to tick more loudly.
Earlier, as I was exiting the metro station I had been thinking about how I had not seen the vast police presence that I would have expected following an attack like the Madrid train bombing. Three years after September 11, 2001, the police presence in New York City was still heavy, so where was the security in Madrid not even a year after the bombing?
I reached Plaza de Castilla and found the "platform" (more like a bay) for bus #156. I asked the driver if he went to el Centro Comercial Diversia, and he said no, I needed #159. As I headed back towards that platform a uniformed officer said something to me. It took me a few seconds for me to get him to make it clear that he wanted me to open the bag. Unlike back in the States, my first thought was not whether he had to right to ask this. I just assumed that everywhere else in the world police agents could do as they pleased, or at least take you in for interrogation for some time. I just put my bag on the ground and motioned for him to open it. He had me open it, and then my backpack, and then asked for my password. While he walked away looked at it, maybe calling in the name, the other officer asked me some questions, like where in the U.S. I was from, what I did, and then commented on my accented Spanish. I just kept trying to remember the acronym on his uniform, V-U.I.P. After asking several times, I finally got the officer to speak slowly enough for me to make out that the U stood for "unidad", the P for "policial", and the I for "interv...", a word related to intervention.
Anyway, I was surprised that I had not been interrogated sooner.
The partner dropped me right in front of that final Starbucks and went in to say hello, as he had worked there, or maybe trained, for a while. The manager was, of course, expecting me, and though, having had enough coffee, I stuck to a sample size, I had a chance to try a different type of ham and cheese "sandwich" (on something that resembled a bread stick), native to Spain, and some of the fresh-squeezed orange juice I'd been itching to try since Paris. Even when not quite cold it was quite tasty, and I wished Starbucks back in the U.S. offered something like that.
The manager agreed that I should take a taxi to the airport, and one of the partners called one for me. The driver arrived while the manager was still looking for his camera so they could take a photo with me. The taxi driver didn't seem to be in a hurry (I assume the meter was running), but we just went ahead and took the photo with a camera phone.
I reached the airport quickly, before 15:15 just as the driver had predicted, for a fare of 21.25 euros. I tipped two euros on top of that--enough? Too much? I wondered if I could have saved money by taxing the bus, but better early than late, right?
Since I had spare time, I found an Internet kiosk, and I had already deposited a euro before I noticed it was the worst Internet kiosk on the planet. There was a big splotch of something in the middle of the screen, hopefully not jizz. Instead of a regular keyboard there was a metal thing with keys hard to press. It took me what seemed like forever to type a simple response to an e-mail, but I wanted to get it sent before boarding, because it was from an old high school sweetheart long since living in Paris, married, with a baby, who had received my forwarded e-mail and replied with a phone #. Actually, "sweetheart" is not the correct term, because we were never really going together, just going out a lot during a couple of summers, and several years after high school. Plus, I was always sure she never felt as strongly about me as I did about her. At the time, I felt I was in love, but what did I know. Ten years sure serves to change perspective doesn't it.
I also got e-mail confirmation that my log had indeed been truncated by my last attempt to update it, aborted due to a lost connected. I was hoping that the FTP software would upload it with a temporary name and then do a rename after uploading was succesfully completed, but that's not the way it worked.
After fifteen minutes checking e-mail, then a good bit of time waiting in the check-in line, and then clearing security, I only had 15-20 minutes before boarding. Guess the taxi wasn't a bad idea after all. I found juice in the waiting lounge, but improperly situated--the row of benches was not pushed flush against the column as in other airports, which meant I couldn't plug in and sit down because someone might trip over the cord.
Dammit! Accidentally let iTunes start playing that stupid Break Your Heartsong that Jodi had me download. Can't listen to that song. Need to remove it from my library.
I sat at my computer until they called my row, and then I went to the bathroom. There were plenty of people still in line, so I didn't hurry. When I exited the bathroom, the airline was already paging me and I sprinted to the gate.
During the flight, I think I made some passengers nervous when I got up and started looking for my coat. I had stuffed it above a suitcase in the overhead compartment, and it slid off to the side. I opened several of of the overhead bins looking for it, and I could see the others' eyes on me. I'm sure some of them were wondering if I was looking for something... dangerous.
I was doing a little wondering myself when I overheard a lady behind me say something like "why are you treating me like that" and then maybe "why are you following me". But then she seemed to be all smiles with the guy she was sitting next to, and I remained puzzled.
Later, close to landing, it was a baby feeling discomfort, crying and crying. His mother wasn't having much luck calming him, so the flight attendant took his turn making funny faces and seemed to do better.
I did not have to clear customs at CDG, and I remembered the same from Madrid. But I did clear customs in London. All three countries are in the European union, so what was the difference?
While waiting for my bag, I used my credit card (because I could not find a phone that took coins) to call Marissa, whom I had not seen, as far as I could remember, for ten years. She warned me against going to Couer Defense that night because she said the area was one of office buildings and so the "shopping center" would probably close early. We arranged to meet in the morning, and I hung up quickly because I saw my bag on the belt about to be sucked back into the bowels of the unknown.
I hung up, scared to think about how much that call might have cost me. The LCD displayed the cost elapsed in euros, nearly two, but at the onset, when I swiped my card, it showed a credit of some 15 euros without giving me a chance to accept or decline. Bad UI!!!
Eight-mother-fucking-eighty-five euros to Paris, damn! On something called the RER, from which I had to transfer still to the Metro. Back at Areopuerto Barajas in Madrid, the trip to the city had been all of 1 euro 15. Dude, what a rip!
I couldn't find the address of my hostel, Le Montclair Montmartre, so I had to find first an Internet connection. I headed to the Starbucks on Avenue de L'Opera where I had found a free connection. It wasn't working, so I had to buy a 30-minute eurospot card for 4 euros 50. The time didn't carry over, so I had to use it all at once, which became inconvenient when the Starbucks suddenly closed, at 9:00, much earlier than I expected. I started uploading several days worth of photos, and as I moved outside the connection slowed and it took forever. Worse still, it was drizzling, so I had to squeeze into the doorway and try to keep moisture off the laptop. Grrr...
Still, I got what I really needed, the address to the hostel, I found it on my map, and I headed over there, aching to ditch my duffel bag, and hungry. The desk attendant warned me against leaving my computer in the room (or maybe he was referring to the luggage locker), so I took my backpack, and I headed out in search for food. I had to wonder a while. The restaurants on the smaller streets seemed to be closed--it was on the one of larger streets that I found some places open. The first didn't take credit cards, which was just as well, because there was an Italian restaurant at the end of the block, and that's what I really wanted. The spaghetti was good, but the waiter turned out to be sneaky. I asked up front it they took credit cards, but when it came time to pay the waiter said there was a minimum of about 20 euros. He first took my card and went up to the register, and pretended like he had just found this out, but I don't believe for an instant he didn't know all along. And come to think of it, I don't think I liked the way he was looking at me.
The Mystery of the Missing Camera
I returned to the hostel--holy crap, it's 11:27--I needed to get the fuck to bed if I was going to get up early! Anyway, I returned and joined the group in the lobby, just to hear what the chatter was about. Australians, as always, and some Americans, having drinks and killing some time before heading out to a discotheque. I nearly did a doubletake when they busted out with open flame right in the middle of the table, for caramelizing sugar to mix with absinthe, a sight I'd never seen before.
A very cute, very blonde, and very drunk Denverite named Emily appeared. I don't imagine she was drunk from the moment they met her in Rome, but neither would I rule out that possibility. Needless to say, she provided much amusement for all around, and she seemed to be all over one of the Australians. Or maybe it was the other way around.
The guy next to me, from San Diego, had a pretty interesting story to tell. He was a student but occasionally picked up acting gigs, including a recent one as a member of Weevil's gang on the new show Veronica Mars. He said he also did head shots for actresses and models, mostly ones he met on the set of the show. He said his father was a guy named Mark Hyman who hosted a show called The Point or something like that in Baltimore.
I'm not much for dance clubs, but I actually had a bit of an urge to go with the group. But given that I needed an early start so I could make to to La Defense and then back to meet Marissa, a late night was out of the question. Plus, I was already thinking ahead towards not being exhausted when I returned to the states so I could put more hours in at work.
So I went up to the room and looked for a place to plug in my laptop. There was a digital camera plugged in to the outlet nearest my bed. It's light was green, indicating a full charge, and I debated whether or not to unplug it. Before I got into bed a couple of other hostelers arrived, back from some circus at which one of the performers had suffered a pretty bad head injury. The first guy was British, but, by coincidence, lived in Houston, and worked for Starbucks, at a shop downtown. He was fairly well amazed that I knew exactly which shop that was and assumed I too worked Starbucks. He spoke very slowly, and I assumed he was drunk. The other guy was named Krishnan, like the Indian god.
A short time later arrived a pair of cuties, Tulane students on their year abroad, one in Dublin and another in Bristol. I wasted no time in finding commonality. One grew up in Chicago, and the other lived in San Clemente and had been to the same shopping center where there was a Starbucks I had recently visited. The two surprised all of us when they revealed they had not heard about the tsunami that had been all over the news.
When the Brit went into the bathroom I was Krishnan if they had been drinking. Nope, he just talked slow that way.
At some point I realized that there were seven of us in the room. None of us owned the camera that was charging, and the eight bunk appeared to be unoccupied. We found it hard to believe someone would leave his 5 megapixel camera behind, but Krishnan called dibs anyway.
I really enjoyed chatting with the others, most of whom were students. Rooming in a hostel was the closest thing to the dorm life that I had long since begun feeling nostalgic for. Of course, they don't really have rooms with eight beds in most dorms, the others could not exactly relate to the comparison. But since it had been almost ten years for me, and I was now feeling nostalgic for college and high school, this hostel dorm thing was the closest I'd get. Perhaps that feeling of nostalgia is why I was getting into that new Tom Wolfe novel so much.
But it was around 1:00 AM, and way late, and well past time for me to have been sleeping. I crawled into my bunk, a bottom one for one, and just out of curiousity I asked the seventh person in the room, the poor girl that had been in bed all while we were talking, if she had managed to get any sleep. When she said was from Mexico City, I immediately asked if she had seen any Starbucks there, as there were thirty listed on the web site. I was surprised when she said she had not seen any. Were they all hidden or something?
Before I fell asleep, I overheard several of the others talking about having to get up early, around 8:00. I started thinking right then about making sure I got into the shower first in the morning.
The neverending conversation gave me plenty of material I wanted to write about, so I kept getting out of the bed to make notes. Next thing I knew it was past 1:00, and I was like, oh shit, tomorrow morning is going to be hard.
Thusday, January 6
I awoke when someone went to the bathroom, but it wasn't the shower, and it still seemed dark out. I had forgotten that it had been dark as late as 9:00 when I first arrived in Paris, and I was expecting it to be light by at least 8:00, so I was going to go back to sleep. But then I heard someone rustling through a bag. That meant it had to be close to 8:00, and I got up and asked her, the Indian girl. It was 8:00, she said, and I quickly grabbed my towel and jumped in the shower before her. Hey, I'm faster than most girls in the shower! Sure enough, when I got out, she was waiting, and I was glad I had beaten her to it. I was quickly out of the room and on my way to the metro station.
It had been 8:10 when I got out of the shower and booted my laptop to discover the battery had stopped charging at some point, leaving it less than halfway. Crap. I figured it had to be 8:30 by the time I got on the train to La Defense. I was worried about a couple of things. First, that because of the hostel and the restaurant I would not have enough cash to do what I needed that morning, and then that I had miscalculated the time and would not be have time to meet Marissa. By the time I reached the Starbucks it had to be around 9:30, and I had decided to just call Marissa and leave our meeting for another time. But then the manager asked if I had been to La Faubourg. I replied that it hadn't opened yet, and she said it did, yesterday. What???
My mind went into overdrive. I remembered Marissa having said something about a taxi's taking 30 minutes to the airport. And that the new Starbucks was near the Bastille metro station, which was near where Marissa lived. Okay, I might have to head over there after all. I asked to use the phone and called Marissa and we talked it over and decided I could make it. I had her start thinking about a taxi and where I could get cash while I was on my way. The manager said "run, run", and I took the galette I had been offered and the coffee and rushed off. I was focused on getting to the metro, so I didn't think about how the manager had explained that the galette was also a treat for the holiday, Le jour de rois, or something like that, the equivalent of the Spanish dia de reyes and that the pastry would have a toy inside. So that's what that hard thing was I bit into, some little figurine I couldn't make it, with text reading "moulin a cafe".
As I counted off the stations on the train, I thought about how back in the U.S. I often discovered an unlisted store, or a store that had just opened, and had to change my route. But with my mapping program and knowledge of U.S. highways I was able to come up with reasonable estimates of how long it might take. Here in France, however, I couldn't even make a wild guess and had to trust others.
As I anxiously counted off the stations to Bastille a thought came to my mind, that of Scully yelling to Mulder "There's no time!!!" right before the Federal Building in Dallas blew up. I occupied my mind reading, but I was glad to glance up just in time to see that the Louvre station, appropriately enough, is adorned with works of art right there on the platform!
I reached the Starbucks on La Faubourg Saint-Antoine around 10:15, took some photos, and promptly discovered it was still under construction.
Son of a bitch! The manager back at La Defense and Marissa had told me the store was open. Back in the U.S. I ran into stores under construction all the time, but rarely would they end up costing me a taxi ride to the airport.
The manager was expecting me, as well as other partners there who had heard of me. Despite the store's being under construction, I received a warm welcome. Marissa soon returned, having arrived earlier but not seen me, with baby in a pouch in front. The staff took a photo with me, I said I would return as soon as I could to sample the coffee, and Marissa and I headed over to I small coffee shop, where we chatted until it was time for me to go.
Marissa had suggested the taxi ride to the airport might cost as much as 40-50 euros, but the taxi driver estimated 35--much better. During the drive he commented that he was from Sri Lanka, in country for some 9-10 years, and I commented that I had spotted a Sri Lankan restaurant in the Montmartre area the night before. I began to worry when we ran into a traffic, and then when the signs announced an accident ahead, but we reached the airport well before 12:00.
I had to walk nearly the length of the terminal to find my registration area, number 6, but I didn't mind because the first registration area I'd seen had a very long line, and #6 was nearly empty. But, oddly, I had to stand for questioning by some security agent, asking me why I had been in the country. I would have expected such questions upon arrival, not departure.
After some unexplained and mysteriosu delay, the agent was able to hand me my boarding card. I still had 30 minutes before boarding, plenty of time to find the car rental area again and ask the Sixt agent about my bill. As I had hoped, they had only charged me for one day, but my bill was still higher than I expected. Even though the weekend rental rate was only 30 euros/day, the bill was over 74 euros because of all the taxes!
I remembered I had only eaten a galette, so I used some of my remaining euros to buy some pan au chocolat, another typical French pastry, and then I went to change the rest into dollars. Next to the American Express booth was an Air France office with a glass window, and sitting with her back to the terminal was a girl, seemingly cute from behind, and displaying some serious crack. A gentleman that walked buy stared intently, and I reached for my camera. Son of a bitch! I had forgotten to remove it from my duffel bag. Damn! Some web sites might have paid good money for pics like that. And since we were in an airport terminal with plenty of security, I didn't have to worry about the boyfriend coming after me.
I cruised through security and looked for juice but found nothing but two dead outlets. So I alternated betwen studying and the novel, the end of which I was quickly approaching, and let nearly everybody board the plane while I sat in the lounge. With only a backpack and coat to stuff in the overhead bins I saw no season to board early and wait in the less comfortable seats on the plane. Once I did board, I found myself next to the window, and in a row with an old man in a cane who was sure to be slow to move when I needed to get up. Then we were joined by the heavy sweaty guy, breathing hard, that no one wants to sit next to. I asked a flight attendant if there were any open aisle seats, and he said the flight was full. But then he remembered a youth, whose long gold chain contrasted sharply with his very dark skin, sitting in the emergency exit row that did not like his seat, and he arranged for us to switch.
I wondered why the kid had not wanted the seat? Didn't want to be responsible for opening the emergency doors, maybe? Later, I wondered if he had anticipated that the baby sitting to the right might start to cry. Yep, turned out to be real annoying all right.
I had tried to focus on studying and leave the end of Crichton novel for a real boring period of the flight, but I was really into it and finally just finished it, with some disappointment, not because of the story--it was a great read--but because I'd have a long flight ahead with nothing to read. For that reason I had my Scrabble words to study. But I could rarely study for long because most of the time during plane flights I had a very low-grade, background, headache that made it hard to read sometimes, and hard to do things like focusing on a list of a couple of dozen words for very long. I regretted that all that time on planes went to waste because of my discomfort. I looked forward to when we could access the Internet cheaply, or for free, on planes.
A scary moment during my meal when a bite of the salmon gave me a feeling of nausea. An airplane was not high on my list of places in which I preferred to start vomiting.
I scooted in the toilet as soon as I finished my meal, and then I managed to doze off pretty well. It was not a deep sleep, and I would open my eyes occasionally. At one such moment I noticed a very long line for the toilet, one of the longest I'd seen, and I was glad I had taken it when I could.
Besides the baby to my right that kept letting out these sudden, loud, screams in my ear, there was also an older child that kept running around the food/beverage area in front of me while his mother waited to take his younger sister into the toilet. Later, the father next to me changed the baby's diapers. Jeez! Kids on flights, aarrghh!
The plane did not have electrical outlets, at least not where I was sitting, and I was hesitant to turn on my laptop at first. Finally, with less than three hours to go, I decided that I wasn't in any danger of needing any information from the laptop before I arrived at JFK, and that it was safe to type until it ran out of power.
As we neared the States, I began to feel some nervousness at the impending situation with Jodi that I'd have to deal with. I wasn't sure if a week's inability to talk, plus my refusal to take time away from my trip to deal with the drama via e-mail , had made the situation better or worse.
I was back in the States, but the adventure hadn't ended. My return flight was to JFK, not Newark, which meant I had to take a series of trains to get back to my car. First was the AirTrain to the Howard Beach Station. Then a long subway ride, on which I witnessed some local phenomena I'd never before seen firsthand. First, an Asian lady selling pirated DVDs. How did I know they were pirated? Well, because they were for movies in theaters at the time, like Meet the Fockers and A Series of Unfortunate Events. And why was it relevant that it was Asian? Because news reports discussing film piracy often mentioned China and its attempts to curb piracy so as to faciliate entry into the institutions of the global economic community, like the WTO. Towards the back of the car some dude bought one, thus supporting the global epidemic of copyright infringement.
Later, a young man with a basketball and a stereo announced "The show is about to begin" and proceeded to perform a variety of tricks with the ball. Some were amusing, but I certainly wasn't about to encourage that type of activity, entrepeneurial though it might be. I wasn't on the damn subway for a show. Really, I just wanted to get home and I didn't give a fuck about how good the kid was with a basketball.
I seemed to remember having seen directions on the Internet that involved fewer transfers, but I ended up on a more convoluted route. 33rd Street Station to PATH, then a PATH transfer at Journal Square in New Jersey to get to the Newark Penn Station, then a train to Newark Liberty Station, then an AirTrain to the long term parking. Nope, that wasn't it. I became very confused about where I had parking, thinking it was an area called P2, but there was no such long-term parking area. It was actually P6, and I had to take AirTrain to a terminal, then walk to a bus depot, then take the bus to the parking area. Whew! By the time I reached my car and got on the turnpike in was 10:00 PM, or 4:00 AM Paris time. I made a mental note never to book another fucked up intinerary that returned me to a different airport from the one I departed after an eight-hour flight.
Needless to say, I had to stop at the first service area because I already way past the point where driving was dangerous. When I woke up in the wee hours I decided I needed to push on and get across the bridge into Delaware before the traffic. I gassed up before I left, and I had to deal with a surly sour-pussed gas station attendant who seemed irritated when I asked him to even out the price on the pump. By mile 57 I was crashing again, but I pushed on for another hour into Maryland before stopping.
Thursday, January 7
I slept as much as I needed to and rolled into work at 10:30, not too late. By 12:30 I couldn't stand the anxiety any more and had to rush home to see if my recording of Lost had come through. Yes! It worked. I didn't have to kill myself out of depair.
Spain uses the Starbucks card, but they didn't have a custom one for the country, like in Japan. Shucks.
It's harder to find available electrical outlets in France and Spain.
Need to pack lighter for my next trip. In fact, if I can travel just with a backpack, no duffel bag, it would be better. Need to plan trip better, in general.