Get 500 or Die Tryin' (November)


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November 24, 2005

And I'm off!

Hoodwinked! I was hoodwinked out of the chance to be the first customer at the new Starbucks in the Canton neighborhood of Baltimore. The store was supposed to open on Friday, November 18th, and all that week I had been excited by the all-night party I had planned--first the release of Harry Potter movie at midnight, and then a wait from 3:00 AM to 5:30 AM when the store opened. But when I called on Thursday afternoon I was told the opening had been pushed back to the 25th. That meant I'd have to wait until my return from London to visit a store that ws literally 15 minutes from where I had been working. Frustrating. But not as frustrating as just finding out that the store was indeed open already, on Thanksgiving Day, which meant it had opened up sometime this week, and that I could have been the first customer if somebody had told me. Grrr...!!!

Probably spent too much on lunch, $11, since I need to make my money last a couple of months. But I was hungry and wanted to get something before getting on the freeway, and Rosalita's on Broadway was one of the few places open, and at least I got a full meal, which would come in handy later in the day when I expected most restaurants and even grocery stores to be closed for Thanksgiving. I still had yogurt, fruits, and tomates in the car, but they weren't to tide me over 'til morning. And with me just getting over some bug, it was probably best to keep my strength up.

Oh, man! I made a pit stop in some town on US-15 north of Harrisburg, and the temperature was much colder. The attendant said the low was going to be 18!!! Ouch, but is it going to be a cold night in the car. Glad I have thermal pants!

There was a collision around Blossburg, at a point where the highway had a downgrade combined with a curve. Traffic was hardly heavy enough on the smaller highway to backup, Thanksgiving or no, but we were all slowed down by a verbal warning to each of us, from a state trooper, to be careful on the hill and keep a safe distance from the car ahead. No trouble there, but I nearly had some further up, on I-86 and I-390. I pulled into a scenic area for a pit stop, and when I pulled out I couldn't see exactly where the ramp back to the freeway was and ended up on the grass (or dirt), where the snow was piling up. A few more inches, and I might have been stuck. Farther ahead, I was trying to get back into the right line when an SUV came up quickly. I jerked the wheel too hard to the left and the car fishtailed but fortunately recovered traction. Sure made my heart beat fast though.

I'd already spent too much on food, nearly $20, but at a pit stop in Tioga Junction I bought a slice of pizza. I figured I'd need more calories still to keep warm, as cold as it was.

As I expected, my mapping program showed a cinema at Eastview mall. It was not screening Syriana, my top choice, but The Ice Harvest had also opened. I called my father and had him look up some reviews--an average C+ with some Bs and even an A-. I figured it was worth a shot. Before it started, I saw about 15 minutes of Derailed, enough to know that the reviews were right--Jennifer Aniston was seriously miscast. And during the feature, I snuck out for a few minutes to see the Superman trailer. I'd missed it before Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire because it was the first trailer shown, and I was in the restroom. But here, it was the last of four, which mean I ended up missing 20 minutes of the movie, and critical minutes, because when the movie (which wasn't very good anyway) ended, I was confused.

After the movie, I saw an example of the two different kinds of people there are in the world. A couple walked out of the auditorium, and I asked the young man if he could tell me what had happened before Thornton and Cusack took the trunk to the water. He was dismissive as he said he didn't remember. I suspected that was bullshit--he just didn't feel like helping me. Further back down the hallway were another two people, and their demeanor was completely different. They told me exactly what had happened in those 20 minutes, and they seemed happy to do it.

Finding a suitable campground was more trouble than usual. As I suspected, the few neighborhoods near the mall were unsuitable (too upscale). There were plenty of industrial parks around, but I had a bad LE vibe. And all three local communities, Victor, Pittsford, and Mendon had signs prohibiting overnight parking from November to April (because of the plows). So after nearly an hour of driving, I just headed back to the thruway to the parking area I had seen. I didn't worry too much about the time lost, because I'd have time to kill in Boston anyway before my flight, but when I got to the West Coast with 200 stores to visit, an hour lost on parking would be significant!

The night, BTW, was so cold that when I awoke at 1:30 I had to turn the heater on and keep it on until about 4:30 when I had warmed up enough to turn it off. I usually manage without the heater, but 18 degrees was just too cold.



November 25

Probably because of the hour it took me to find a place to park, I didn't get up until 6:43, but I suppose it could have been worse. Black Friday is supposed to be the biggest shopping day of the year. Even at 6:55 the parking lot was filling up. I imagine by 9:00 I'd have had a long, cold drive to the mall from the far edges of the parking lot. Even at 7:00 AM there was a line of over 10 people at the Starbucks. I worried that I would not get my free sample (with 500 to go, it mattered a lot). I also wondered about a good angle for a photo. As I stood in line a pudgy security guard walked down the other side of the hall. After a few minutes he had reached the end of the mall and walked back behind me. I gave my spiel in a rapid-fire clip and got my sample, and then I wished I had time how long it would take the guard to get back to me, like Michael from Prison Break. After a few tries I found a half-way decent angle and considered myself lucky that I had reached the mall early, rather than in the afternoon when the crush of people would have made a photo all but impossible.

Yeah, 90.5 FM out of Rochester! Excellent music!

By the time I got back to my car and warmed up the engine it was 7:20, so I figured I might as well head over to that muffler place where I had almost parked the night before, to get an oil change. Good price, $21.39, with a $5 rebate (assuming I hadn't been hoodwinked).

Heh--"Busting up a Starbucks" on the radio--what a coincidence.

As I drove to Lockport I looked at the ten new Toronto-area locations plotted on my map, and I tried to decide the best (cheapest) way to determine which stores had opened for business. Each call to Canada would incur a long-distance charge by Sprint PCS, so I didn't want to call all of them. But if I detoured too far to find a store closed, I would waste more in gas than the phone call would have cost. I called Waterloo because it was pretty far to the west. I had already called Vaughn Mills months earlier to determine if it was a licensed store. Missasauga had two new stores. One listing was a couple of months old, so I figured it had to be open. Burlington was only a hop off the freeway. That left Thornhill, and then I remembered that the cheapest way would be to ask the staff at one of the stores to call ahead and ask. Now, I have already figured this out, many times, but for some reason I always seem to forget. Must be getting old.

I had an early taste of Canada in the form of Tim Horton's, but I was not able to manifest the blueberry muffins that I like so much. When I left, I concentrated harder, and I was able to manifest a Dick's sporting goods store, where I hoped to buy a larger backpack for London. But I still hadn't put enough effort into altering my reality, and there were no backpacks at that time of year.

Major queerness on Transit Rd. The addresses on the east side of the street are completely different from those on the west side!

While I waited for the manager, a female barista on her break offered me a couple of slices of sourdough. "Sure," I replied. I'm in budget mode, and free calories be free calories. Before I left the store, she wished me well on my travels, and then said "God bless you." in a way that made it clear that she meant it. Her remark confirmed what I thought I had seen earlier, that she had been reading a bible. Despite her comment, I was still grateful for the bread, and I left resolute that my acceptance of the bread did not make me a Christian.

Oh... my... god! That hurt so much! I made the mistake of forgetting to change the settings on my camera before leaving the car to take the photograph, and so my hands were exposed to the cold, enhanced by the wind, for twice as long. I only shot one frame, and my hands were exposed for a little over a minute (including the walk to the sidewalk), but that was enough for them to start to become numb.

Aw hell yeah. Old Bon Jovi on Jack FM (out of Toronto I think).

Ooh, ooh, ooh! Cheap Indian reservation gas, at $2.26 about 20 cents cheaper than what I paid back in Victor.

No inspection.

Paul Brandt seems to have long since been forgotten in the States, but he still gets airplay in Canada.

Grrr... the location named "Longos Fairview", as I suspected, was indeed licensed. But because its name did not include the dash used in the name of other licensed grocery store locations, I wasn't sure. I obtained the name of the district manager so I could e-mail him (assuming he had an e-mail address at starbucks.com), and then I went across the intersection to a fore-sure real store. I explain my mission, but the baristas on duty did not know who the fuck I was and seemed suspicous and hesitant to help me. The one at the bar couldn't, or wouldn't, spell the name of the district manager for me, and when the other one came out from the back, where she had been on the phone for way too long, she said she had been instructed not to give out contact information for the district manager. Ridiculous!!! I told her that down in the states many stores have business cards out on the counter with the DMs e-mail address. But she just repeated her instructions and offered to pass my number to the DM.

And in a final act of uselessness, they couldn't tell me if the Wi-Fi I saw advertised by a sticker on the door would work with my T-Mobile account.

In Waterloo I tried to put $5 on a Starbucks card so I could get Canadian back as change with a the good exchange rate that Starbucks usually gives, but the manager said the register would not her do it. I seemed to remember having done this on a previous visit to Canada, but I was hungry, so it was easier to just buy a yogurt and get my Canadian currency that way.

Okay, will somebody from Ontario give me a precise definition of the term "regional municipality"? Got it covered, thanks.

In sharp contrast to Burlington, the manager in Missassauga was exceedingly helpful and provided everything I asked for, including the opportunity to call the Canada Zone office, where I left a message about Longos. Oh, and he was in fact able to put $5 on my card using American currency.

Two new stores in Toronto, and then it was almost 6:00. I knew traffic outbound would be heavy, and I was famished, so I made sense to find a place nearby and sit a spell. I drove down Queen Street, and as soon as I saw the bright yellow sign outside Friendly's Grill advertising "Breakfast All Day", I knew I had to stop in. My toast was buttered without asking, a pet peeve of mine, but all was forgiving once I tasted the eggs, homefries, and bacon. Tasty, tasty, tasty, even if they are going to kill me.



Well, if that don't beat everything! Bon Jovi on country radio!

New Thornhill was indeed open, but the shift didn't know anything about Vaughan Mills. I had already called, months earlier, to find out if it was company-owned, but I wanted to double-confirm since most of the Starbucks in Mills malls in the US are licensed. The shift supervisor at the Vaughan Mills store was equally confused about this whole "licensed store" concept, so I had her check the balance on my Starbucks card. The receipt looked normal, and the store number fell into the same 46xx range of the other stores I had visited, and so I took that as confirmation enough that the store was real.

Sleep was much easier to find than in Victor, an industrial park near Vaughan Mills. It was my second choice, actually. The first one I spotted, on the other side of the street, was too close to a huge-looking nightclub named Sin City with a long line of youth waiting to get in. Bored and drunk youth might decided to wander around peering into parked cars, so I opted to avoid that possibility.



November 26

Uh-oh. Morning nappy in full effect.



Once my head cleared around 7:30, I realized what should have been evident during the night. The temperature had risen, and with it came snow, and in the morning the sky was overcast. The reshoots I had hoped for weren't going to happen. This was particularly disappointing because I actually had time to kill, and such moments were becoming rare. And there was no point going to the top of the CN tower, either.

Hmm... crepes! Now I'm glad I didn't find a bagel shop after an hour of driving around reshooting stores. But watch out for that hot melted nutella--it'll drip all over!



I know the temperature rose overnight and all, but still, that's gotta be mighty uncomfortable. How I wish that we would end his suffering. And for a more powerful zoom lens.



The crepe was filling, and I could have gone a couple more hours without food, but when I saw the odd name of this place, Yitz's Delicatessen, I had to pick something up. They had veal hot dogs. Never had one before.



Just great! It was sunny for miles, and just when I reach Kingston, clouds and snow.

But hey, this guys got a lot more to complain about. Dayum!!!



Ah, cool. Got an e-mail from the district manager over licensed stores and confirmation that Longos Fairview is indeed licensed. Now I don't have to lose sleep wondering.

I knew it! I knew gas would be cheaper in Kingston, which is why I tried to buy just enough to get me there.

Finally, over a year after I arrived in Kanatas to find the Canadian Tire store not yet open for business, I was able to visit. And with great relief, because since it was an experimental partnership with CT, I feared the store might close if not successful.

My timing worked out for once. One of my field agents on the LiveJournal baristas board alerted me to a possible new store in the Barr Haven neighborhood of Ottawa. I made inquiries in Kanata and learned it had in fact opened, and a mere three days earlier. So despite the best efforts of that clandestine cabal in Seattle that is dead-set on preventing me from visiting all the stores, I managed to check this one off my list. Well, I guess it wasn't even on my list, was it!

After defunking at the rest area outside Rigaud, I drove through town and find the strip club I had been to back in '03, where a dancer had made me an unabashed and indecent proposal. Well, I found the building where it used to be, and I wondered how long it had been closed down. Oh, well, it didn't matter. I hadn't really intended on staying unless I found an extremely good bargain. I wasn't really expecting to, nor did I really care.

During the drive to Montreal I reviewed my list of stores in Montreal, and I discovered one I had not plotted on my map, in Pointe Claire (not sure exactly what Pointe Claire is, legally speaking). I couldn't find the address, so I pulled into an Esso and asked the attendant. I guess my accent was awful, because he replied in English despite my having asked in French. He said it was down St. Jean. That didn't make sense, but I drove down a block anyway until I saw the a Second Cup, and then I figured the attendant had confused the two shops. So I went across the road to the older (and now fake) Starbucks inside the Chapters. As soon as the barista said the other store was inside the mall across the street, I was, like, oh shit, because it was almost 9:00, and I feared it might close, and not open 'til late on Sunday. Well, the delay turned out to be moot, because the mall actually closed at 5:00 on Saturday. But on the bright side, it opened at 10:00, which is better than 12:00. Either way, I was still ahead of schedule.

I headed over to a street named St. Zothique to find a place called Lotus where I had had an excellent massage two years earlier. I didn't have the address, but after a couple of passes up and down the street I spotted the sign. It was only 9:00, so I was surprised to find them closed, especially since the schedule in the window said 10:00. So headed a couple of blocks down to another place I had spotted, Abandon Spa. I got a bad vibe about the quality of the service, so I left and drove slowly down the street until I found a Wi-Fi signal. I googled the place, and sure enough the reviews I read did not inspire me to risk my money.


Montreal City Nights

I headed over to the closes new store, on St. Catherine East. The other new stores were also down St. Catherine, which I knew from experience would be busy on a weekend night, with parking hard to find, so I went ahead and found myself a place to camp, out towards the water, in front of a construction site.

When I went to sleep, the weather seemed warmer, but shortly before 2:00 I woke and decided I needed the heat. But I had been cutting it close on the gas, to save money by putting just enough in the tank to get me to Vermont. I wasn't sure if idling the engine for a few hours would empty the tank, so I went in search of a station. They weren't exactly on every corner on that part of the city, so it was a good thing that Streets & Trips includes gas station listings. I did not return to my original campground but instead parked on a nearby street that seemed quiet.

Sometime after 3:00 AM I awoke again to find the car cold (I had turned off the heat), and I also felt unable to sleep. I decided to drive around, always interesting in a big city at night, and easier after the bars close and traffic is light. I forgot that where I was, St. Catherine was two-way, so I took a smaller side street south, and I witness something curious. About a block down I saw three, maybe four, youths run towards, and then away from a parked car. At roughly the same time, another car, bright red, pulled out of the adjacent space and drove away quickly. When I reached the end of the block I could hear the car alarm, and I saw that the car's window had been smashed. I looked around for the police car I had seen just a minute earlier. By the time I did spot one, I couldn't see the kids anymore. I circled around the block, but they had disappeared.

St. Catherine was quieter than I expected, even for the lateness of the hour. I soon a strong desire to sleep and returned to my original campground. Before I had a chance to crawl into the back a car drove by slowly. I waited, so the drive would not see me crawling back there and become curious. But rather than drive on, the car turned around and slowly pulled up to mine. I could see that the driver, male, young, baseball cap, was looking at me, and I made it clear I was ignoring him. He pulled away slowly, and then put it in reverse and pulled next to me again. For a second I wondered if he was trying to block me in. But he just kept staring, so I figured the best way to get rid of him was to be curt. I lowered my window, but only partway, and asked if I could help him. Probably not the best choice of words, because he replied "Yes." I can only imagine what he was thinking. But then he asked if I spoke French, and I lied and said no. He drove on. American accent worked in my favor that time. I can only guess he was looking for some action, but homey don't play dat.

After that, the only disturbance was after the sky had lighted, an odd scratching sound. Just a small bird, but on my passenger side miror, not the roof, which is why the sound didn't seem familiar.



November 27

Ah, the follies and foibles that make this project interesting (or frustrating). I couldn't find the Cours Mont Royal store, so I headed to Plaza Alexis Nihon. The barista there explained Cours Mont Royal is a mall, and when I headed in that direction I was surprised to pass the St. Catherine Crescent store, which had been misplotted. When I exited that store, I found a bus blocking my photo, so I headed over to Cours Mont Royal. But it doesn't open 'til 10:00 on Sundays, so I headed back to Crescent to take the photo.

Before heading out to Pointe Claire, I dropped by Lotus, but, as I suspected, Stephanie had not worked there in a year.

On the highway out to Fairview Pointe Claire, a car came up up behind me really fast, and I got out of the left lane for him. When I shifted back over, I noticed he alternated between his left and right turn signals a couple of times. I wonder if this is some type of "thank you" code. Or maybe a "fuck you" for not moving fast enough?

I had been hoping to find a creperie as I drove around Montreal, but I never saw one before getting out of the city. I realized I had not eaten in over 12 hours, and I considered trying to break my record and go without food for 26 hours. Then I came to my senses, and I bought a scone from the Starbucks. CVI bakes them fresh, and so it tasted much better than the variety served Stateside.

By repeatly putting $5 on a Starbucks card with American 20s, and with several purchases of juice and yogurt, I had been building up enough cash for a massage, under the assumption that if I didn't end up getting one, I'd put what I had leftover after food and gas on the Starbucks card (to avoid the currency exchange fee). But I forgot that that the Montreal stores don't take the Starbucks card, at least not yet. I thought about hanging on to that cash until I got back into Canada, to Vancouver. But then it occurred to me that since I was in a mall, I might as well look for a travel store and see if they sold a suitable backpack. I settled on one by the Canadian company roots--it had a Canadian flag on it, and I figured I'd finally be able to "go Canadian".

Sweet Jesus!!! What is with all these "no u-turn" signs all over Montreal. That's wack!!!

AARRGHH!!! After a couple of passes on Boulevard Taschereau without spotting the Starbucks, I assumed the girl at Tim Horton's had pointed me in the wrong direction. Well, she had been right, but the address I had pulled off the Starbucks web site (months earlier) had been wrong. I had to end up making a roaming call (expensive) to another store to get a correct address for the Taschereau store. Moreover, I had used up my last $2.71 on gas and was hoping I'd have enough to get to the first gas station across the border. Burning gas driving up and down the overly congested boulevard certainly wasn't going to improve my chances.

As I pulled into the Starbucks the itching in my left leg flared up, on my thigh specifically. The spot looked like a pimple, and I had a similar one on my knee, but in all my memory pimples had never itched, only hurt. When I told my moms about discovering thermal pants, she said my father had tried some when he was working up in Ohio during the winter, but that they had made him itch. I wondered if I was suffering from the same problem. But they keep me so warm!

Wow! A jazz/swing version of Van Halen's "Jump".

No inspection.

I put 10 gallons of gas in my tank in Swanton, VT, close to capacity, which means either that I had measured out what I needed to get to the border just right, or that I had come dangerously and foolishly close to running out at the border crossing, depending on how you look at it.

Little Stevie's Underground Garage airs Sundays on 106.7 in Burlington.

I was planning on hanging out at the other Starbucks in South Burlington and updating my site, but when I called Tilton I learned the store would close at 7:00. I still had time to spare, and I could have waited until morning to visit, but I decided that it would be smarter to go ahead and try and reach it by 7:00 and at least have the option of staying the night or moving on. The distance was 133 miles, but most of it looked to be on curvy state highway, so I decided not to waste any time looking for food and just picked up some KFC. That was a good call, because even free of snow and mostly dry, the road was slow, and I used up most of the 2 1/2 hours I had, arriving just 10 minutes before closing.

Holy shit!!! Gas less than $2 in Tilton!!! I'ma guzzle dat shit like Gatorade!

I'd only spent 5.74 on food for the day, and I was tempted to just pick up a banana and apple and get a start on bringing my daily average down to $10. But the baristas at the Starbucks said the Tilt'n Diner ("Proud Member of the Common Man Family of Restaurants") was pretty good, so I decided to check it out. Once I saw that breakfast was served all day, and that biscuits were on the menu, I was rendered incapable of passing it up. I wanted to take it to go, but I decided springing for a tip was a small price to pay to save my life, which surely would have been put at risk had I attempted to eat while driving east across NH along SR-11.



Alternatively, I could continue south on I-93 and take I-393 to US-202 to US-4 to Portsmouth. This route is 23 miles farther, but I expected the road would move faster.

Anyway, the biscuit was okay. What's really cool about the place is the decor. Up front are some shelves with old magazines, like Life, for sale. And inside the bathroom, instead of a condom dispenser, there is a cologne dispenser. Whoever heard of that?

Oh... my... god!!! $1.93 in Concord!!!

Yep, I was right--US-4 was quick and smooth.



November 28

The cold weather had delayed my ripening, but after four days without a shower, I can smell a hint of homeless-person odor. Hmm... maybe more than just a hint.

Despite the warnings on the radio, I encountered no ice on the interstate from the Maine service area to Auburn. However, as soon as I stepped out of the car at the bagel shop I spotted, Bagels 'n More, I nearly slipped. And at the Starbucks itself, I nearly slipped again, and this time with my $800 camera in hand. Aah!!! Must... be... more... careful!!!

I finally started working on my checklist for London. Things to do: haircut, cut nails, charge camera battery, shower (!!!)

laptop
adapter
camera
battery charger
plug adapter
washcloth (need to buy)
small towel (need to buy)
1 white socks
3 black socks (should buy new ones)
2 Starbucks shirts
black undershirt
pajama pants?
razor
passport!!!
cash
credit card
bank card
Paypal card
deodorant?
fake Excedrin (but how many?)


What's with all this Christmas music??? Aah, Nine Inch Nails--much better.

Stupid, stupid, stupid. I forgot to zoom in on the Waterville store earlier, and once I did and discovered the address was a fake street, I had to use 4 roaming minutes to get directions. That's over $2 I think.


Only Two New Stores, But a Busy Day Nonetheless!

Supercuts... blah. But time was running out, and I didn't want to be filmed with funkyhair.

Switching dials on the drive down I came across FOX News Radio, some program called "The Tony Snow Show". Wow. All I can say is "wow". Thankfully I soon entered the range of an NPR station airing BBC news. What a contrast in styles.

Oh, goddamn it, I've got a bunch of phone calls to make, confirming sotres, figuring out the best route on my mapm and now I've got a crazy trucker to deal with. A crazy trucker is any eighteen-wheeler driving as fast as me, which is at least 10 miles over the limit, sometimes 15-20. I feel pressure to stay ahead of the truck in case I get stuck behind him in case of a lane closure or congestion, but I don't want to drive too fast and get a ticket.

I had hoped to meet NECN (New England Cable News) in Newton around 1:00, but I had miscalculated how long it would take, and that was before the haircut, which took much longer than the 5 minutes I expected (and still sucked). And I was further delayed by having to stop for five minutes at a liquor store just inside the New Hampshire/Mass border to do a radio interview with the CBC. But my rush turned out to be moot, because when the producer at NECN called to confirm he had gotten clearance from Starbucks, he reported having been told that the Newton Corner store had been delayed. He mentioned the Dedham and Norwood stores, and by coincidence I had to replace the photograph of Norwood that had mysteriously disappeared.

After a quick stop for a Dunkin Donut lest I pass out, I reached the Norwood store on time to find... no photographer. I quickly hypothesized that the producer had not heard me say "Norwood", and that the photographer was six miles away at the Dedham store. I called over there, and the manager reported that some news guy had shown up (she didn't understand the term "photographer" that video people use). She also said she hadn't heard anything from corporate, and I hoped the producer wasn't trying to pull a fast one. Regardless, when I got up there the manager was just leaving, and the staff that remained was very cooperative.


Not On Coffee Alone

A shower was mandatory before getting on the plane. I'd heard one story of a passenger denied boarding, or escorted off the plane, because of body odor. If the plane was packed, whoever sat next to me was going to be mighty unpleasant if I didn't shower. I thought about a truck stop, but a massage I found advertised by a local masage student for only $35 was a better deal. Heck, that's less than I'd probably pay for a motel room in Boston! The massage was okay, although abbreviated because I spent so much time in the shower scrubbing off four days of funk, and she had another appointment after me. But something weird was happening when I was on the table. No, not what you're thinking. When I was on my stomach, my right arm kept sliding forward and off the table. I tried to control it, but I kept drifting off to sleep, and then the arm would fall and I'd wake up with a start.

$1.99 gas in Somerville--yay!!! But $1.95 gas two blocks down, after I had already filled my tank--boo!

I rushed off after the massage to try and visit the two new stores in Nashua before heading over to Solomon Pond Mall in Marlborough to meet Ashley, who had e-mailed me after finding my web site. Boo too to the dumbfuck who decided to have a wreck on I-93 during rush hour. By the time I cleared the collision, it was clear I couldn't make it to Nashua and back to Marlborough in time. Ashley had sounded very cute on the phone, so I had to shift my priorities and decided to skip leave Nashua until my return from London. I had to see how cute Ashley might be, and where the night might lead.

"Marlboro" sign on 495--is it Marlboro or Marlborough???

Well, I would have preferred one nose piercing to her two, but Ashley was still a picture of 21-year-old cuteness! After nine days of celibacy (a loooong time), I was consumed with desire, but I played it cool anyhow. I met her at the Starbucks, and after she got her drink we went over to the food court. I have a disdain for mall food, but I was famished, and the chicken and rice from a place blandly named "Latin Cuisine" was halfway decent. We went back to the Starbucks so I could get my coffee, and the district manager happened to be there and gave me a warm greeting. After chatting a bit, we went outside and I shifted into spy mode and found an angle from which I could take a photo without being spotted by security. Then we walked around the mall and wondered what to do next. I certainly wasn't in any hurry to get away from Ashley, and she seemed quite willing to stay out until she had to drive back to western Mass. I suggested a drink, and we headed over to a place she knew in Worcester, Boston Billiards. She bought me a Smirnoff Ice, and with each sip my desire was intensified. But Ashley had to work in the morning, and I needed to get to Wal-Mart before 11:00, in case I couldn't find a 24-hour location nearby. We talked about trying to meet again when I returned from London. As I left, I wondered whether she, or her mom, would investigate me further while I was away, and whether Ashley's attitude would change.

The Worcester Starbucks was in the same parking lot as the Boston Billiards, and I updated my site and then remembered to look up the nearest Wal-Mart. Cripes! It did close at 11:00, and I barely made it in time, just minutes before the doors closed.

AARRGHH!!! I wasn't on the phone. I wasn't looking at my computer. No, I have no idea how I did it, but somehow I ended up heading west on I-90, which mean an extra 20 miles to drive to the airport. I couldn't even u-turn at the next exit, I-84. No, I had to travel almost a mile down 84 before I could turn around. Why, why, why! I mean, it's not like I'm retarded (Jodi's favorite word). At least I don't think I am.



November 29

Just... a... Few... More... Minutes

I awoke at 4:37, and when I returned from the bathroom I thought--"only an hour more sleep, oy!" So I reset my alarm to 5:45. Then 5:40. Then 5:36. Finally 5:38.

Finding my way to the economy lot at Logan was like traveling through a maze. When I arrived, I was shocked to learn that parking costs a whopping $16 a day! "Economy" my ass! I could not have imagined that it would cost more than at the NYC airports (or did they go up since January). The weekly rate was slightly lower, $96, so I would end up paying $128. I'm sure a parking lot off site and public transportation would have been cheaper, and I cursed myself for not having planned better, so focused was I on packing my backpack correctly.

I also noticed that the parking spaces are not marked. To find my car, I need to walk left from the bus stop to the fence, then walk towards the back. Having made the checklist was helpful, though I had left off a couple of things--a bar of soap, allergy pills, and Q-tips.

The checkin line was long, and I regretted not having arrived at 7:00 like I had planned. But it moved quickly, and my putting "Winter" in the first name field worked--I avoided being selected for further scrutiny. The security line was shorter and moved quickly, and I was also not inspected. This left me time for a danish and to consider buying a book. I didn't want to, because the last time I bought a book at the airport, Odd Thomas, I only read a few pages. I had intended to bring it with me to London, and I had it right next to the backpack as I packed, but at the last minute I forgot. The bookstand, Hudson News, had a copy of Grisham's The Broker, and after a few seconds of deliberation I figured it was worth eight bucks.

According to the ticket, boarding was scheduled for 8:15, but at 8:25 it still hadn't started. Fine with me, because I had time to plug it my camera battery charger and ensure the battery was fully charged. I didn't know if the charger would work in the UK.

"There's 70 empty seats--that's all I know," replied the flight attendant curtly. Three of those seats were between myself and the other gentleman in my row, thus validating my decision to fly on Tuesday. But it was so cold.


The Glob

Oh, but that was odd. As I finished breakfast, I hocked up a thick piece of phlegm, large enough that I didn't want to swallow it. My seat was right next to the bathroom, and it was unoccupied, so I quickly rushed in and spit in the sink. As soon as it hit, I could tell that it might not go down the drain. It was the largest gob of phlegm I had ever seen. I tried raising and lowering the stopper (with the button) while running the water, hoping the glob would get sucked down, but it was just too big. Finally I gave up and had to leave it there to gross out passengers for the duration of the flight. Too bad Bill didn't come to London with me, so he could have gotten that footage and gone for the Super Size Me vomit effect.

Later, as I waited next to the restroom to brush my teeth, a flight attendant (I think she might have been the curt one) walked by and said "make sure you clean the sink." I first thought she was referring to the phlegm and wondered how the heck she could have known, but I quickly realized she had seen the toothbrush and toothpaste in my hand.

I finally decided to open up a second blanket, and I was able to get to sleep. Next thing I knew we only had 2 hours 15 to fly. The attendants were making the rounds with snacks and drinks. I very deliberately closed my laptop and took the orange juice and set it on the tray in front of the seat to my right. I went back to my log and promptly forgot about the juice, and next thing I knew I had spilled it. Only a few drops splashed on the very right edge of the laptop, but part of my right pants leg was wettened, and so was my backpack. I quickly rushed into the bathroom to wipe the juice off, because otherwise it would get sticky. Winter doesn't like sticky. Thankfully, only one drop landed on my camera. Maybe I am retarded after all.

I asked an attendant for more juice, and as she handed it to me I promised I would not spill it. When I returned to my seat, I promptly stumbled and spilled a few drops.


Race to Chiswick!

As soon as we landed I put my coat on and my book in my back pack and tensed up, waiting for the seat belt sign to come off. As soon as it did I bolted, but I only managed to get three rows ahead before everybody got up and slowed me down. But the walk from the plane to passport control was so long that by walking as quickly as I could manage, I passed everybody up and was first to get through. I wasn't quite doing my duck walk, but rather a modified version, and as I passed a pair of passengers one commented that I looked like I was on ice skates. Sure, I worked up a light sweat, but I'd say that within 15 minutes I was at the Underground station and buying a ticket.

On the escalator down to the train I passed a very cute dark-skinned girl and heard her say something in what might have been an American accent. I asked if she was from the states, and I got back a harried story in reply. She claimed to have arrived in London by accident, when she was supposed to be in Australia. The previous day she had flown from South Africa to Namibia, and from there she apparently got on the wrong plane. How the hell that happens, I have no idea.

When I looked at the tube map I zeroed in on the Chiswick Park station, because there were three Starbucks nearby. Once on the train I remembered that I had made the mistake before of assuming that the similarly-named station was the closest, when it really wasn't. So I used AutoRoute to calculate the distance between the Chiswick Park station and the Starbucks, and then also for the Acton Town Station, which was the transfer point. They seemed about the same, a little less than a mile, so I exited at Acton Town.

At the entrance to the station I noticed a youth trying to sell a used ticket to a young lady. "You're going to need it," he said. "Why are you selling it," she replied. I'm not sure if it was a scam, but I think it's illegal.

I walked nearly a mile down Bollo Lane to find... the Chiswick Park station, not where AutoRoute had plotted it. I could have gotten off there and saved the walk. Not that it mattered, because the store in Sainsbury's had closed at 8:00, and the other two on Chiswick High Road at 7:00. The distance to the hostel was about 3-4 miles, but I saw no reason to spend money on a bus, so I bought some fruit and started walking. After a bit I figured the fruit wouldn't be enough. I passed a pasta place and a couple of burger joints, and I was tempted, but a meal at any of those places would cost $11-13 dollars. London was already looking more expensive than I hoped, so I opted for the cheap option, KFC. As I sat in the tiny store, I thought of Joel Sherman, the World Scrabble Championship competitor who had his laptop bag (and precious word lists) stolen at a KFC. I kept my bag close, and in the reflecting in the window I kept an eye on everybody who entered the store. With nearly two grand of electronics in my bag, I wasn't fooling around.

As I walked I was increasingly glad that I had decided to just bring a backpack. Made the walk a heck of a lot easier. It was still cold though. As the plane descended the on-board TVs reported an outside temperature of 27. I was, like, ouch! But that was in the air. On the ground it was more like 40. But it was dropping--as I neared the hostel I passed a readout that reported 0 Celsius. Cold enough that I could feel it through my gloves, through my jeans, and I regretted not having found the time to have my coat fixed (I couldn't zip it up).

At the Starbucks I logged on to T-Mobile and discovered they were now charging US customers 18 cents a minute for roaming. Aye yo, dat's wack! When I reached the hostel though, I learned that Internet access was only 50 pence for 30 minutes, and that I could plug the ethernet cable into my laptop. So I could do my photo uploading cheaper at night. It was still worth 18 cents a minute to be able to check my e-mail at every Starbucks, though.

In the same room as the front desk and the computer there was a TV. The show that was on dealt with sexual encounters of some sort, outside the bounds of a relatinship, and the language was explicit and graphic (one girl used the word "cock"). I commented to the desk attendant that they could never get away with that type of language (or content, for that matter) in the States. He replied that you can get away with anything in Europe.

I noticed a commercial for an upcoming episode of Lost. It was an episode a few months before the season finale from last May, and the attendant commented that they were a few months behind in the UK. Poor bastards.

I was glad to find that, as I had hoped (but not necessarily expected), the room was warm enough that I could sleep shirtless, thus allowing me to keep my single undershirt cleaner.



November 30

And He's Off!

I had no way to tell the time, but I could tell it was morning from the sound of the cars driving by on Cromwell Road. I went back to sleep, and when I woke again I could see it was light out, and thus time to get up despite my jet lag. Hostel 149 was one of the cheapest I found, and I expected it would be lacking in certain amenities, but I didn't know what they would be. Room was warm, and the Internet access was convenient. But in the morning I discovered that the bathroom lacked a mirror, so I couldn't shave. And the shower room wasn't really a room, more like a shower with about a foot of space between the shower door and the room door. When I opened the shower door, I literally had to squeeze into the shower. As I've often encountered in Europe, it was one of those deals with a shower head attached to a hose. But there was no slot on the wall to affix the shower head, so the shower was awkward at best. Still, better than none, and for a little over $15 a night, in London, I can't complain. Not even about breakfast, which was nonexistent because the bread ran out. I could have waited 10 minutes for some, according to a note posted on the toaster oven, but I quickly decided paying a pound for a pastry was worth having an extra 10 minutes of light during which I might be able to photograph one extra store.



First up, almost right across the street, was Sainsbury's, and then Earls Court Road, and then down at Old Brompton Road. Back at the hostel I had been relieved to find that my camera battery charger appeared to work, which meant that I didn't have to be conservative about how many frames I shot. 33 total of Earls Court before I decided I had what I wanted. I'd read the battery was good for about 500, and I hoped to visit 100 stores, so if I shot even 10 of each store I'd exhaust the battery.

I hung out at Old Brompton Road to update my site and check for mail from MSNBC about a possible satellite appearance from their London studio. That would have been cool, but because of the difficulty of coordinating the time difference they decided to push it off 'til I returned to the States.

Ohhh... dizzy. To get to the toilet in the Old Brompton Road store I had to make six sharp turns and go down a steep flight of stairs.

Ooh, ooh, ooh! Doggie in Starbucks!

As I sat at the store, a dottering old man entered, got a coffee, and sat down on a stool at the window. He was seemingly a regular, because several customers went out of their ways to say hello to him, and one of the baristas went over to check on him too.

Hmmm... a clothing store name OXFAM. I wonder if it's affiliated with the UN organization, or if it's just capitalizing on the name.

Interesting. A large light blue box with a slot and a label that reads "KNIFE DISPOSAL BIN". A round sticker with a picture of a knife and a red slash through it reads "GET A LIFE. BIN THAT KNIFE".

It was past 9:00, and the banks had opened, so I dropped by a NatWest branch and asked about currency exchange. They did not, but a representative directed me to the post office on the corner, where exchange is commission free. But the rate is not as good. A few doors down was a currency exchange place, with a better rate, but with a service charge and commission. When I did the math, the post office turned out to be better.

Across the street in the Earl's Court station it was finally time to by a weekly travel card, now known as an "Oyster" card. I almost made the same mistake as last time and bought a card for all six zones, which is almost twice as expensive as the card for zones 1 and 2. But the ticket agent cautioned me about how expensive it is, and he recommended that if I only needed to go outside zones 1 and 2 rarely, that I could purchase the extra fare on the spot. So I only spent 21 pounds 40.


Winter Versus The City

I had missed out on visiting many stores in The City because they close early and are closed on weekends and holidays. I decided to finally polish them off and headed to the Tower Hill station. Closest is Minories, and there I encountered a manager I had met in January in Brent Cross. And then I encountered much frustration, and for the next 30 minutes I cursed Roots, the maker of my backpack. One of the two zipper thingies caught some of the cloth and jammed, and try as I might I could not get the cloth loose. After much pulling the draw-string broke, and the half that was still zipped up side began to separate with no way to zip it up again unless I unjammed the thingie. I finally had to call upon the might of Hercules to pull apart the two haves of the zipper and break the thingie. I was able to continue using the backpack, but I was truly pissed at Roots for having made me waste 30 precious minutes in London.

A couple of stores later I met a cute barista (but aren't they all) named Fredericca (sp?) who had seen my website and was very excited to meet me. Italian? Brazilian? I'd met several Brazilian baristas already that morning.

The scone I had bought from a place called Bakers Oven was wearing off, and after seeing the third Benjy's my curiosity overcame me, and I popped inside to see what they had. It looked like the breakfast sandwiches had run out, so I bought a sausage roll. Just so-so, but anyway I needed something in my stomach to blunt the effects of the coffee.

Leadenhall Market, pretty cool.



Ooh, what the heck is it? I've no idea, but there are people moving inside. A spaceship maybe? And what's with the name of this street? St. Mary Axe--that's an odd name.



By Camomile Street, my 10th store of the day, I was feeling the effects of the caffeine full on, and I had to delay drinking the sample as long as I could. I needed to slow down and get some more food in my stomach, but I also wanted to knock off as many of the stores in the City before they closed down around 6:00.

Ohhhhh... nausea. The address listed for the Lion Plaza store was incorrect, but I didn't mind the delay, because I wasn't going to be able to keep up the pace the way my stomach was feeling. In fact, I was perfectly content to sit in the store and stare at the very prim and proper businesswoman (based on the suit) with fair, fair skin and lip gloss that shone from across the room. Attractive as she was, I found myself distracted by the discomfort in my stomach and the hint of a headache--you know the coffee is really affecting me when I can't even focus on a beautiful woman.

Because of my discomfort I decided to take a break and abandon the City for the moment, and let my stomach settle on the tube while I headed to a different part of the city. I stopped at the old Old Broad Street store to use the restroom, and the barista who had given me directions to the other store asked me a question, and, since I was in no hurry, I went ahead and explained my mission. This barista first thought I was joking, but once I convince him I was for real he showed more interest in my project that most others. I didn't mind taking a break while I answered his questions and showed him my map of stores.

I finally set off for the Liverpool Underground station. It is right across from the Liverpool train station, where there were two new stores in addition to the one I had visited in January. I felt a little better after my break, well enough to tackle those two. I waited at the first for the shift supervisor to help all customers, and then I wandered around for at 5-10 minutes looking for the second, where I had to get a shot of espresso because they did not have any filter coffee brewed. I waited as long as possible to drink the shot, and I washed it down with water immediately. Despite taking those two slowly, the caffeine combined with hunger took its told, and on the train towards Westminster nausea was joined by dizziness. Also, for some reason, my ears were stopped up. Clearly I would not be able to delay eating much longer.

AARRGHH!!! Only a day of using this Roots backpack, and already it has a tear towards at the bottom corner. Curse you, Roots, curse you!!!

From the Westminster station I walked to the Horseferry Road store, where I had to take another espresso because they were near closing and had turned off the coffee. The manager told me Harrod's, what I thought was the closest store, had already closed. I'd find out later I had misplotted it. But anyway, I decided it was time to pack it in, at 14 stores, and get some grub. I headed towards Victoria Street, and the Laughing Halibut, a fish and chips place, jumped out at me. I took away chips, plus something called a sausage in batter. And also a Coke. Yes, at 60 pence it was a needless extravagance, but after drinking nothing but coffee and water all day, it tasted soooooo good. Eating while walking was tricky, though. Everything I wanted a bite of the sausage and some chips I had to find a place to set the soda down. I blame my parents. If they had take experimental drugs when they had me, I might have developed telekinetic powers.


Second Wind

When I got to the Victoria station, I saw that one of the lines was the District line, which went to Chiswick Park. It was only 7:27, so I figured I had time to make it to the Sainsbury's before it closed at 8:00. On the way I realized that the station had not been misplotted by AutoRoute--rather it was me who was in error, having confused the Chiswick station with Chiswick Park. I reached the station with 15 minutes to spare. When touched my Oyster card on the sensor to exit I noticed the display read -1.10. When I looked at my tube map I realized Chiswick Park was one station into Zone 3. Had I gotten off at Turnham Green, which is in both Zone 2 and Zon 3, I would not have owed anything extra. So after visiting the Starbucks, I returned to the station to pay the 1.10 I owed, and I asked the attendant how to get to Turnham Green. She indicated the station was along Chiswick High Road, and I set off. But after what seemed like much too long of a walk, I started asking people where the nearest tube station was. A gentleman indicated that it was two lights down and to the left. When I arrived, it turned out to be the Stamford Brook station, which meant I had missed Turnham Green, which meant the station attendant had been wrong. It wasn't a big deal, because I wasn't in a hurry, but my legs were going to hurt that much more in the morning. I had not walked that much since my last trip to Europe, and given that up until two weeks earlier I had been running regularly, I suspected that walking must use different muscles than running. Or maybe it's that I ran on a treadmill, while I was walking on concrete.

I returned to the hostel, and the first thing I did was remove my undershirt and hang it up to air out. Then I removed my black socks and hung them up to air out, and put on my white socks. Ever fashion-conscious, I avoid being seen in white socks outside the context of bedtime or the gym, but I made an exception so that I could give my black socks some extra hours to air out, because I'd have to recycle them in a day.

The hostel was booked for Sunday, but I went ahead and booked for Monday and Tuesday. The 10 pound dorm rooms were booked, so I had to pay 12, but that was preferrable to taking a chance on a different place, given that this hostel pretty much had what I needed.

I sat down in the office and worked on my site so that I could upload the pages and photos. I charged my camera battery, and it took almost an hour. Since the full charge time is supposed to be 2 hours, I concluded that I had used up about half the charge. So it's a damn good thing the charger worked; otherwise I'd have been stuck out after two or three days.

Shortly after 10:00 an older guess came down and asked to use the Internet for 10 minutes. The attendant had the ethernet cable plugged into the computer at the desk, looking for music to download illegally I think. He told the older man that the Internet wasn't working. Things that make you go hmm....

The first night of massive caffeination is never easy, but Wednesday night was particularly difficult. I tossed and turned for hours, and I went to the restroom no fewer than five times before I ever fell asleep. A total of 8 or 9 times during the night. Add that to an average of at least 1 time per Starbucks, plus several times while I worked on my site at the end of the day, and that was some 30 times in 24 hours. I also alternated between being cold and hot. And besides the hunger, which I couldn't do anything about, no matter how much water I drank, I was still thirsty, and there was a hint of a dehydration headache always threatening to come into full bloom. The fact that hot water came out of the cold tap half the time didn't help. In the morning, I realized that the reason for this was that it was really the hot tap I had been using. It had been cold the first time I used it, and I assumed it was the cold tap. Hey, I'm not retarded--I was just half-asleep.



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