World Tour 2008 and The Implosion Blitz

Updated September 5 2008. Current location: Houston (tour ended). Blog continues here.

New international stores visited: 223 photos
Coffee consumed overseas: (X - 12) * 4 + 10 = 866 oz drip coffee + 14 oz French press + 7 espresso + 2 non-Starbucks cappuccino + 16 oz crappy hostel coffee + 1 Costa Coffee au lait
New North American stores visited: 218 (pre-blitz)
Skipped to save gas/time: 4
Skipped due to boil order: 1
Skipped due to Scrabble: 20
Coffee consumed North America (pre-blitz): (X - 19) * 4 + 28 = 824 oz drip coffee + 12 oz French press + shot + Vanilla DoubleShot + 14 DoubleShot
Miles driven: 25335
Encounters with police: 6 + 1 parking officer
Spent on coffee: $219.71
Spent on gas: $4,043.23
Spent on tolls/parking: $110.05
Spent on airfare: $2,714.31
Spent on transportation: $1004.63
Spent on accomodations: $1102.82
Spent on misc: $506.76
Spent on unnecessary camera: $466.59

Implosion Blitz Statistics
Stores visited: 447 photos
Coffee consumed: (X - 100) * 4 + 22 = 1410 oz drip coffee + 284 oz iced coffee + 16 oz French press + 4 shot + 19 DoubleShot + chcolate banana Vivanno w/shot + mocha DoubleShot
Medication: fake Excedrin - 18 + 2 (for "The Dark Knight") + 8 (for Scrabble); fake benadryl- 1 (to force sleep for NSC drive)

Canadian Statistics
Stores visited: 59 photos
Coffee consumed: (X - 5) * 4 = 216 oz drip coffee + 8 oz French press + 1 DoubleShot + 2 shot

Post-Blitz (U.S.) Statistics
Stores visited: 36 photos
Coffee consumed: (X - 4) * 4 + 28 = 156 oz drip coffee + 2 DoubleShot + 1 bottled mocha Frappuccino + 1 shot


May 6-8Dublin
May 8-12Switzerland
May 12-22Germany
May 22-24Vienna
May 24-30Athens
May 30-June 2Beirut
June 2-3Amman
June 3-4Istanbul
June 5-???North America

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September 4, 2008


September 3, 2008

rain power out Satellite Cafe interview

September 2, 2008

Cornell & 188th - Hillsboro, failure

September 1, 2008

Leave the Charlotte rather disappointed and head to Wytheville. A combination of three nights of sleep deprivation plus either severe allergies or a bug (perhaps a bug caused by sleep deprivation) forced me to stop at the rest area just 50 miles shy. Fortunately I was able to start driving again shortly after 7:00, and I made it before the sun went down for my photo.

August 29, 2008

Stops in Richmond, Emporia, and Fuquay-Varina on the way to the Charlotte tournament.

August 28, 2008

Some reshoots.

August 27, 2008

8:20 or so, really needing coffee, and I immediately headed out to Hagerstown as fast as I could manage.

Something radically unusual at the Exxon station--I actually ran my car through the wash. I hadn't done this in... jeez, I have no idea how long!

By coincidence I happened to arrive at the Stone House Square store right before 10:00 AM, when I had a radio interview scheduled. I forgot my phone when I walked inside, and when I went out to the car to grab my camera I had several missed calls. The phone soon rang, and we moved forward with the interview when I man walked up to me and asked "are you Winter?" Turns out he was one of the people who build that very cool store, which I considered the prettiest in Maryland, and he had been following my web site for a long time and was excited to meet me. He gave me a tour of the store, pointing out all the interesting features, and he even donated to my project. Later, another member of the building team (construction team?) showed up and also wanted a photo with me. Very cool.

My stop in Front Royal was also pleasant, but I was unable to hit the Starbucking enthusiasm trifecta at the next store, in Fairfax. Streets & Trips could not find it, so I had to call for directions, and both of the two baristas I spoke to seemed impatient with me as I tried to narrow down where the store was. When I reached the intersection, as I expected, it was huge, and with all the traffic I could not see the traffic, and I wanted to find out which way to turn so I didn't have to pull u-turns and wait at the light multiple times. Again, whomever I spoke to seemed impatient. When I reached the stores, I quickly identified a female as possibly having been the one talking to me, and her demeanor inside the stored appeared no more friendly. The other female was heavy set and had that same angry-with-life look that I have encountered before. There was a third baristas, a male at the bar, and I walked over waited to get his attention so I could ask who the supervisor was. While I waited, I overheard the taller female saying something about "he's already called three times." I wasn't sure if she was referring to me, but upon learning she was the supervisor, I decided I did not want to talk to her and experience derision, so I just paid for a short coffee.

August 26, 2008

8:47, still sleepy. Went to the new store in Hanover, Arundel Preserve, and it ended up being my only store of the day. I hung out there until early afternoon, and then I picked up Rebecca to go see American Teen. I was planning to head out to Hagerstown afterwards, but instead we went to Scrabble club. I actually hadn't been to club in nearly 4 months!

August 25, 2008

It was just as hard to get Rebecca to "get up" when she was in my car as when she was in a bed. I find that it's easier for me to get up when in the car and the sun is out, but apparently not so for Rebecca, who seemed like she would have slept there for hours longer if I had let her. But she got up alright, and when I handed her her bag, she had to change with care because, with the sun out, she was actually visible even through the tinted windows as she changed her shirt. We were at the back of the parking lot, so nobody was actually looking, but a car might have driven by.

We got breakfast at the A & P Fresh, and then after shooting Denville I went inside to see if the old manager was there, but he had long since moved to another store. From Denville we went to Bethlehem, where I deemed all the baristas as potential meanies and just stealthed the store. Rebecca disagreed--she said she didn't think they were mean, but I explained I'm the one that has to risk being spit upon.

Before leaving that store, I had had to wait at the store for a phone screen that lasted maybe 30 minutes, for a Houston position. A couple of reshoots before leaving the area, and then down to three stores in greater Philly (although I wonder if Limerick could really be considered greater Philly).

Stopped to pick up lunch at Tierra Colombiana on the way in to the city, and during a stop at 7-11 for a soda I screwed up and bought Diet Pepsi by mistake. Upon taking a sip, I was aghast!!! My expression soured in disgust. That stuff is so nasty. Rebecca agreed wholeheartedly. Of course I had to dump it out and buy the real thing.

Lakewood, and then to Columbia to drop Rebecca off.

August 24, 2008

After an extremely disappointing finish, I left the Big Apple Showdown and drove off towards Long Island to resume the war. First store, Garden City, and a weird reaction. The barista smiled and seemed interested when I asked for sample, but then when I stopped her from pouring in a short cup and asked for an actual sample cup, her mood seemed to shift dramatically.

Picked up Rebecca in Bayside, then a quick order of fried rice and chicken soup at a restaurant down the street, and we were soon on our way to Denville. I had originally planned to keep driving towards Bethlehem, PA, so that we could sleep at a rest area or Wal-Mart where Rebecca would have a place to kiwi. But there was hardly any lighting outside the Starbucks, and, without a tripod, I could not get even a half-way decent photo. I wanted to stay until morning, and that required finding a suitable place to park.

A & P Fresh

August 23, 2008

Two new Harlem stores, then Scrabble.

August 22, 2008

Around 5:20 I drove back up to Saugus and stayed in the parking lot there until 6:49. Photographed the s

6:49, rushed back up

so I stopped on of the other partners going on break and asked about the date, hoping they would not do something awkward like asking the AM, evil assistant manager was there, she said "He's a good guy." I had my doubts

The Fredericton article was published quickly. Fairly accurate.

Little birdie what are you doing under my car? Can't you fly? Is something wrong?

The Red Bull-mobile, driving by a couple of overtanned young hotties in short shorts. They left the parking lot well before we did, but some 15-30 minutes later we caught up to them heading west on I-195.

August 21, 2008


rush to meet reporter

Calais, no inspection.

Cool, the end-point of US-1!!!

Wow sometimes I really fucking hate Starbucks. As I drove down Maine and tried to find out information about new NH and MA stores, I had exceptionally bad customer service experiences when calling store after store for information. Even Seattle was useless--the machine said their offices were closed for a meeting!!! I cannot help but hope fervently that the day will come, soon, when not a single new Starbucks ever opens again. Then maybe the level of bitchiness and assholiness in the barista population will finally start dropping.

By the time I reached North Conway I was livid...

Struggle to get DoubleShot from Wilmington, Plaistow manager helpful...

Fuckin' lane closures on I-495 made it impossible to reach Shopps at Saugus, then ramp closure, but the supervisor was cool...

Rebecca finally calls...

August 20, 2008


Reach downtown in time to park before 7:30, but unfortunately one store is at the Eaton Centre, and I would have return when it opened. But when I returned around 9:30, I discovered it was actually facing the street and had been open 'til 6:00. But it did not face St. Catherines, which was the address--instead it faced McGill College. Grrr...

Checked my e-mail at the second store in Quebec City and was surprised to find four interview requests. Since I was looking for a job, my first thought was that they were work related, but then I realized they were about my Starbucking. This was really surprising since I had not actually given any interviews recently, and to my knowledge no articles had been published about my quest.

Oh... my... god!!! I cannot believe my stupidity. Microsoft Steets & Trips kept suggesting a route to Fredericton that was 10 miles farther, and I kept trying to get it to plot the shorter route across the smaller bridge. Well, turns out that other route wasn't across a bridge at all, but a ferry!!! I wasted ovfought the traffic er an 90 minutes trying to find my way to that other bridge before I realized my error and managed to fight the traffic out to the highway

10;31, NB, Atlantic time zone

rush, pass up Wal-Mart, St. Leonard Tim Hortons

August 19, 2008


Obligatory stop at Tim Horton's. Outside the store I saw a man who looked like a combination of Joel Wapnick and Lestern Schonbrun. The man was holding two dark-haired dogs on leashes.

After being subfriendlied and half-sampled by dozens of baristas, I finally ran into one, in Newmarket, who flat out said "we don't normally give samples." I'm pretty sure that was incorrect, at least as far as store policy in the U.S. goes. It was a bit sad, really. She was so beautiful. Blonde hair, fair, flawless skin, charming smile--she had the face of an angel. But inside, she was a daemon! I feel sorry for whatever poor chap what falls for her sirenean wiles.

After seeing branches of the Sunset Grill all over greater Toronto, I finally could not resist the pull of "all-day breakfast" and decided to try it. Unlike another location I had seen, this one did not have Wi-Fi.

Interview, around 75 minutes, hideously expensive!!! I feared to see how much it would cost, but probably around $100.

You know, I bet that barista at Aberdeen would be upset if she ever read my blog and found out I called her a worthless bitch. But what does she really expect, when she dismisses me with such contempt when I explain I'm trying to visit every Starbucks. Call me crazy, but I do not think that a person who works for a business ought to be contemptuous of a customer who is attempting to patronize that business over and over again. Yeah, I must be nuts.

By contrast, baristas, also attractive, at the next two stores were very curious and enthusiastic about my project.

Hmmm... I don't know about this. I used to say that I did not really like Asian food, but now this is the third or fourth time this trip that I have ordered Asian, in this case a Cantonese and Schezuan restaurant. Of course, since I'm only ordering soup and plain white rice, am I really ordering Chinese?

Oh, for the love of god!!! The store called "St Jean & Hymus" is NOT at St. Jean and Hymus!!! It's totally on the other side of the freeway, at a different intersection. After wasting 5 minutes wandering around the intersection I finally had to call the store for directions. That call probably cost me a few dollars. Thanks a lot, Starbucks!!!

There was another store that my map could not find at all, but fortunately the male barista, not actually on shift, at the store was kind enough to call them for me so I could get directions. The other three baristas, all female, who were on shift, did not seem to interested in helping me, even though they were actually getting paid for their time there. Funny how that goes.

Stay in the parking lot to download, then move around midnight, to a street in front of an apartment complex, then move back in front of the store around 5:00 AM.

Still summer, not even late August yet, but it was pretty chilly at night. I actually could have used the long underwear that I had lost sometime earlier that year.

August 17, 2008

6:29 make decision

HOLY COW, THAT WAS A CLOSE CALL!!! I quite literally saw the white car with red and blue trim, which I recognized to be some type of official vehicle pass by as I was shooting King & Peter from a third angle (I had to get that thirrd angle, didn't I). I then saw that the car was labeled "PARKING ENFORCEMENT", and I quickly did my best to fast-walk acrosss the street while sipping my coffee, unsugared, to avoid spillage. I walked up to the car's window and motioned to the officer. He lowered his window, and I explained that I had just needed "30 seconds" (negative exaggeration) to take a photo and get the coffee. He looked at me sternly, but he let me go. Whew!

Thick, thick pancakes.

Eight stores in three hours, and I finally cleared central Toronto and got out as far as Eglington where it was easier to find parking. The sun was high in the sky, but there was shade in a residential area so tried to take a much-needed nap. The problem was that I had to fall asleep quickly, before either of two things occurred--Mr. Sun's finding hiss way into my car, or the massive amounts of liquid I had consumed finding their way into my bladder. I failed on both counts, and 30 minutes later I had to deal with both issues without ever having fallen asleep. I found a different shaded parking spot not far away, but after just 15 minutes I gave up and started driving again, albeit feeling a bit better.

After failing to spot a locally-owned Italian restaurant, I finally ordered from East Side Marios. To the best of my recollection, I had not patronized East Side Marios in more than ten years, since I had dinner there with a young woman I had met on the Internet. I really doubt her name was Penny or Penelope, but for some reason that's how I remember her. Whatever her name, I'll always remember this woman because, after one or two dates, she left a message on my answering machine explaining that she thought we were looking for different things. I listened to the message at work, and I think I related this to my coworker Shawn Gresham. I think he was amused. Shawn, if you ever google your name and find this post, hit me back and tell me if I'm remembering correctly. I need every detail of my younger life that I can get, for the 100% unabridged, minute-by-minute autobiography I hope to eventually write.

Amazing consistency in gas prices around the greater Toronto area--I kept seeing $1.26 per litre.

Ah, it was just a manner of time. After four or five earlier trips to the toilet, I expected that sooner or later I'd start producing diarrhea-like output, and it finally hit me in the late afternoon. Good think I decided to make a pit stop before heading out to Orangeville, a good hour away.

August 17, 2008


That's weird. From behind, the driver of the car ahead of me looks like he/she has the head of a dog.

What the hell??? The idea behind stealthing more and more stores is to avoid nasty looks from baristas. So why did the supervisor in Lapeer give me a nasty look? Was it because I asked for a cup discount, since she was charging me full price for a sample, or was it when I told her my name (why did she ask, anyway). I can't help wonder if some kind of memo has been sent down from Seattle about me, but I have to imagine that if that ever happened, at least one of the thousands and thousands of baristas would give me the heads up.

Something new at the border. I was searched, but instead of questioning me about all the items in my car, about where I was going, where I worked, etc., the male agent ragged on me because I had food crumbs on my seat. He said it was "gross". Let him try living in the car for weeks, I thought (but did not say). And then he asked for advice about building a custom Scrabble board.

Mirage closed, but found Platinum One

Dang, it wasn't even 7:00 PM yet... so I finally gave up on spaghetti and went for soup from a Chinese place.

experiment finally succeeded as expected

Spent more than I had planned at House of Lancaster, and by the time I found my place to park I wasn't going to be able to sleep 8 hours, or even 7, if I was to head downtown beffore the serious parking restrictions.

August 16, 2008

Rush to Scrabble.

Rush to Lincoln Park.

August 15, 2008


OH NO!!! A couple of hours after leaving the Marquette store I realized that I visited the store wearing WHITE socks! While this is not a technical violation of the Starbucking rules, and of course I will count the store, I believe I violated the fashion rules for Starbucking.

another ticket

have to skip

August 14, 2008

Should have left the rest area at 5:39 but I wussed out and went back to sleep until 6:39. Don't think it would have mattered--still would have hit traffic in that horrible corridor near the Illinois/Indiana border along I-80,, so I might as well have slept.

Stupid Potbelly--they didn't warm their chili. By coincidence, the stupid Mexican restaurant in Galesburg had given me frozen salsa.

Finally gave up on holding out for a job in Texas and told the recruiters to expand their search.

Found the cheapest gas I'd seen in the Chicagoland, $3.93 in Barrington, but the stop turned out to be expensive--when I finished, traffic was stopped at the train tracks.

Need to figure out whether Servex will be the principal licensee for all stores in the Netherlands and thus fall under the umbrella of stors I need to visit, or whether this will be a license like in the U.S. If anybody knows a person who knows a person who could give me the 4-1-1, let me know.

Starbucks to open coffee shops in Holland's train stations

As I neared Wisconsin Rapids I held on to the hope that I could reach a city that was screening The Clone Wars by midnight, so I did not want to waste any time on food and just ordered from the Pizza Yuck across the parking lot from the Starbucks. The hostess said the "sausage Italiano" would be faster than pizza, so I ordered that. It was crap, but at least I expected it would be crap. That's the thing about ordering from a place like Pizza Yuck as opposed to a locally-owned restaurant--there is a limit to how disappointed I can get, because my expectations are low.

The Clone Wars was not bad, but neither was it as good as I had hope. Still, I did not feel like I had wasted the effort I made to get to Green Bay to see it at midnight.

August 13, 2008


Virginia's Travelers Cafe

Across from 72nd & Giles I saw a Wal-Mart Supercenter, and I was reminded that the tread on my front tires was getting really low. With thousands of miles still to drive, and many of those miles in remote parts of Wisconsin and Michigan, I did not want to risk having a blowout and being stuck in the middle of nowhere. I wouldn't be stuck, actually, since I had my spare, but I would have to keep my speed low on the spare for possibly hundreds of miles before reaching a tire shop.

Since the Starbucks needed to brew more coffee, I decided to drive across the street and get them started on some new tires. Unfortunately, they did not have tires in my size, which was surprising given Wal-Mart's size and the fact that I was driving a Honda, an extremely common brand. I was still able to get an oil change, but I had to have my tires put on later, at a place called Jensen Tire & Auto.

Given my generally slow morning and the need for tires, I finally stopped waffling and decided that I would not head down into Missouri after all. There was no point in visiting three stores that were well out of my way if that meant giving up multiple stores in Michigan later. It was still a hard decision, because I would have to go to bed every night worrying that those stores, among others, would be secretly added to the closure list.

During my way I walked across Highway 370 to the Twin Creek shopping center to see what the Starbucks looked like after it closed. Man, they left no trace. They even did an almost perfect job of papering up the windows (not sure why). I had to hunt around the edges until I found a gap in the paper, and I was able to see a bit inside the store. Everything was cleared out, including the counters. I thought I saw something still hanging on a back wall, like the photos, but it was too dark to really tell. I bet they took the photos.

August 12, 2008

Lazy morning, 7:50.

This store, which will fall victim to the Purge, happens to be one where I received rather shoddy treatment last year. It's hard for me not to feel a bit of shadenfreude here.

Residents Rally To Save Starbucks From Closing

Grrr... I hate them all. Granted, I knew from seeing the cutesey name, Carlos O Kelly's, that this wannabe "Mexican" restaurant in Hays, Kansas, was going to be crappy. I was saved from wasting my money, though, by a couple of factors. The only reasonably priced option was the special of 3 tacos for 5.99). But both the chicken taco meat and the beef taco meat, like at so many of the shitty restaurants I've found across the country, was pre-infected with peppers and onions. The only plain, natural, meat they could give me was the fajita meat, and they would charge an extra $1.50 for that. That would bring the price up to $7.50, which is what close to what I would expect to pay at a real Mexican restaurant. But then the waitress revealed that the rice also had peppers and onions mixed in. What a bunch of fucking morons! How fucking hard is it to have just plain ol' rice on the menu? How hard, really??? I had been pushed over the edge, and I expressed my frustration and told the waitress to forget it. As I walked away, she said something like "oookay" in a tone that indicated she thought it was crazy that I would not spend good money on food I didn't want.

Jesus Christ, legislators are fucking morons!!! Why would somebody pass a law outlawing the selling of soft drinks at liquor stores in Kansas. Motherfucker who drafted that law needs a serious bullet in the head, yo, cuz he's too dangerous too be on the loose.

My schedule was slipping already. Couldn't make it through Lincoln before nightfall like I had hoped, so I spent the night there. After visiting the new store, where I left a DVD for Bill to pick up later, I headed back downtown so I could download stuff.

August 11, 2008

Woke up at 6:57 and saw old people taking walks along the sidewalk--apparently there was an elderly facility across the street. I needed more privacy for kiwi, so I drove towards out to Rodney Pelham to find a parking lot. After a few minutes driving though I realized I should have slept well over 8 or 9 hours, depending on when exactly I had parked the previous night. That should have been enough. I was feeling crappy because of caffeine withdrawal. I decided to just push through the sleepiness and get a move-on.

Those are some sad-looking chickens.

Driving (very slowly) through Eureka Springs I saw a sign advertising the world's biggest biscuit--well, I couldn't pass that up. I was a little disappointed that The Smokehouse Cafe had stopped serving breakfast, so a biscuit is all I could get, but it turned out to be so big that I could not even finish it, which is too bad, because it was a really good biscuit. I've photographed it on my laptop so you can see the scale. The juice, which came from a machine, wasn't half-bad either. Usually the stuff from a machine is swill.

A couples of stories on This American Life about houses infested with bedbugs and cockroaches made me glad that I sleep in my car--at least I don't have to deal with bugs!

Finally, the obligatory stop at China Moon.

It was technically a detour from my route to Nebraska, but I was afraid to leave any stores unvisited, so I rushed to Oklahoma City to visit the brand new 36th & May store (opened early July) before it close at 9:00 PM, and then I sped away towards Kansas. I wanted to push as far as I could, but since it was drizzling, when I saw a parking area I immediately pulled in. Parking areas are great because they are dark and it is easy to sleep.

August 10, 2008

Golly gee, will you look at that. Talk about the good ol' days.

Since I still had Vivanno coupons, and since I was in a hurry, and since I had a long drive from Tyler to Malvern, I decided to use my coupon for a Vivanno with a shot. Turned out I didn't have to pay for the shot--it's one of the card benefits. Unfortunately, even though I was stealthing the store, the baristas still managed to frustrate me. I placed my order, went to the restroom, and when I came out I went over to the bar to wait. The baristas were awful chatty, and perhaps that is the reason that she had not started my order! She had completely forgotten. I stood there at the bar for about a minute or two wondering where my Vivanno was being prepared before she finally realized her error. I immediately said I needed to go and just asked her for a coffee instead. And whaddayaknow, the coffee had almost run out and I could not get a full cup, which I had actually wanted because of my long drive. The barista apologized profusely, but I was still extremely irritated. I took my coffee, and the barista said the Vivanno was almost done. I said I didn't want it anymore, and I went out to the car. Another barista brought the Vivanno out to me, thus wasting yet more of my time. Again, I told her I didn't want it, and then I had to wait for her to go back in the store so I could take my photo without being hassled. Grrr...

$3.43 (after the Wal-Mart discount) gas in Malvern!

SONUFABITCH!!! I really need to stop sitting on my $1200 camera!!!

August 9, 2008

Around 3:57, or maybe 3:47, I was awoken with a start by what sounded like a loudspeaker, like from police car. Then I heard the bark of a medium-sized dog. I lay there and listened, and all I continued to hear was the dog. I leaned up and peeked out--nobody was there. With only an hour to sleep before my alarm, I decided it was just easier to get up and drive around than go try and go back to sleep.

The Starbucks actually opened early, at 5:20. After buying my coffee and getting the receipt, I went into the toilet. While there, I heard a male voice outside at 5:26--another customer? Good thing I did not cut my arrival closer to 5:30 like I had considered, given that it was Saturday morning and I did not expect anybody to arrive that early.

Went back to sleep, of course, and woke up again at 7:27, feeling totally sleepy. Really did not want to get up, but I could not bear to waste the soft morning light, so I got a move-on. Sleep would be difficult in the heat later, even with air conditioning.

Dang it, I did it for the second day in a row! After waking back up, I stopped at Yuck-fil-a on the way to the next store for a breakfast biscuit. Then, across from the Pinhook store I spotted a sign that read "HOT BEIGNETS". AARRGHH!!! I spoiled my appetite for yummy yummy beignets again. Granted, I was able to polish off all six the day before, but I think I would enjoy them better on empty stomach.

While I waited for my order, I sat down at a table next to a family, and one of the children (I couldn't tell if the voice was male or female) said in a quiet voice, "Mom, is that a laptop." "Yes, it is," the father replied. "I want one," said the child. Poor guy--the kid's going to pester him forever.

DUDE!!! WTH??? Morning Edition has a guy on who spent a year reading the Oxford English Dictionary. I've spent eleven years visiting 8600 Starbucks, and the best I've done is a few minutes of Talk of the Nation. Come on!!!

Oh, okay. I understand now. Dude wrote a book. I need to write a book to get on.

Ouch. Only 10:13 AM, and since 5:21 AM, just five hours, I've already been on the toilet three times and spent a long time communing during each instance. Can't blame it all on the coffee though--thrown in nine beignets and two Yuck-fil-a meals and mix it all up, and this is what I get. Damn though--I'm straining so hard I'm getting lightheaded!

Ahhh, nothing like fan worship from a hot, hot 17-year-old high school cutie. Makes this whole project worthwhile. Oh shit! I think I felt something in New Iberia, but I'm not sure I actually sneezed. In Lake Charles I sneezed several times, and I went to the bathroom to blow my nose, but I thought nothing of it. But now, an hour later, I blew my nose and sneezed, and I suddenly realized I was probably getting sick. Well, that makes my decision for me. I was trying to decide whether to detour to Houston, about 110 miles, for about half a day. Now that I'm hryyinh divk, sleeping in a bed for 12 hours might be very helptful.

August 8, 2008


Dude, there's, like, sand all over the floor of my car--what's up with that? Did I go romping along the beach in my sleep?

WTF??? Swallowing the same fake Centrum multivitamin tablet I've been taking for years, I failed twice to swallow it, and then when I finally did it got stuck and hurt. Is my throat closing up???

Was excited to pay $3.57, but later saw $3.46 farther up US-49 in Gulfport, MS.


Holy magic monkey nuts! I lucked out wickedly in Gulfport. After finishing my interview I deemed the supervisor worthy of my spiel, and she asked me if I had been to the other stores, and she included the Hard Rock Casino on her list. I immediately said I only go to company-owned stores, and she said it was. I was incredulous, but she, and all the other partners, insisted. I went back to my car for my phone (had to plug it in b/c the interview had killed battery), and after three tries I got an answer, and they confirmed. AARRGHH!!! I had been, like, a half mile from the store. Now I was going to have to double-back like 15 miles, 30 total miles wasted! Moreover, from now on I was going to have to double-check all casino stores to see if company-owned.

Well, though the number of Starbucks opening every week has dropped dramatically, I'm not seeing an improvement in the quality of the staff. I hit three for three assholes at new stores who did not have an appropriate customer service tone and demeanor on the phone.

Cool, I get to be the first customer at a Lafayette store, my first first customer visit in LA, although I have to settle for dusk photos of three Baton Rouge store to do so.

God help me, I actually want to watch The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2!!!

While shooting Range Rd & Rushing Rd, a group of kids in a hooptie waited at the red light. They noticed me sitting on a light post and shouted out "Why are you doing that?" repeatedly until the light changed.

Goddamn it!!! It's Friday night, and the Starbucks on Airline closed at 9:00 PM. If I had known, I could have visited it first. Ordinarily, waiting 'til morning would not be a problem, but doing that would prevent me from being the first customer in Lafayette. Dilemma. I was about to call the store to ask the supervisor to look at my article when, out of the blue, a car quickly pulled into the parking lot, drove up to the store, and a pair of youths hopped out and went to the door. With them there, the supervisor would certainly not open the door. And I did not want to try and give my spiel before they left in case the supervisor did let me in, in which case they might notice and come back for coffee themselves. They did not leave right away, however, because there was an old man, missing some teeth it seemed, sitting outside the store. He had asked me for change, and then a right to Florida, and he was asking the same of the two youths. They chatted for a while before finally leaving, and only then did I call the Starbucks and ask the supervisor to come to the door so I could show her my article. I could not slight it under or through the door, so I just held it up to the window as I explained I just needed a canned DoubleShot. She seemed intrigued and complied with no delay, and I was able to drive on to Lafayette.

August 7, 2008

7:07 (but 6:07 Central)

Dammit!!! That bird was so bright red it had to be a cardinal. But in the time I grabbed my camera, set it to low-res, and lowered the window, it flew away.

On the way back in towards Panama Beach from the Callaway store I passed Golt Nugget, which had just opened at 1:00 PM. In general, a good time to hit a strip club, and as I expected, no cover. Table dances were only $10, but tame, especially under the watchful eye of an old guy named Lennie who had actually asked for my ID when I entered (that's unusual). Still the dancer who called herself Onyx was a little


Grrr... stupid Apple. For no reason at all my iPod stopped seeing my content right after a sync. iTunes said I needed to restore ht eiPod to factory settings, but I had to be online to do this. I waited until my last Starbucks of the night, because the software update was large, and because of a slow network at that store (lots of customer, maybe heavy use) I had to wait a long time for the download to complete. By that time it had started raining heavily, and I though I needed to keep my laptop open while the iPod was being restored. I moved the car to a space close to the door, and then I quickly rushed out, hunched over to provide as much protection to the laptop from the rain. And then I slipped, slipped, slipped completely on the sidewalk. I hit the ground hard, but so did my laptop, and my immediate concern was for its condition, not my own. I quickly picked it up and took it into the car. A customer came outside and asked if I was okay, and I said I was more concerned about the laptop. He asked if it was okay, and I said I'd find out and shut the car door. Amazingly, the laptop just kept on running. I was greatly relieved, and only then did I notice that my left arm was bleeding right below the elbow. I went back inside to clean it up, assured the Starbucks staff I was okay, and I continued on.

Punished myself for consuming the Yuck by skipping dinner.

One strip club in Pensacola was listed as having $10 dances, and it was close to that last Starbucks, so I went to check it out. The table dances were actually priced at "whatever you want to tip", which seemed to be around $5, but could be as low as $1 right after "roll call", when all the dancers went up on stage for a song. Of course, for that price you only got part of the song, half or a third maybe, and the dances out on the floor were extremely tame. But the bad thing about the club was that all the dancers seemed to lack enthusiasm for earning money. They just sat around chatting, smoking, texting, but not walking around soliciting dances. What were they there for, really?

August 6, 2008


What is better? Evil in a can, or evil on biscuit?

OMG! $3.57 gas west of Columbus, in Alabama--9 cents less than I paid in Columbus.

Mama Ree's Restaurant along US-280 in Alabama, maybe 30 miles east of Birmingham. The restroom had that type of tile on the ceiling that creeps me out because it is covered with circular holes of different sizes. Whenever I see such tile, I fear that I will be trapped in the space and that a multitude of insects will start pouring out of the holes and devour me. Merely okay biscuit. Home fries had a good texture but were short on flavour.

As expected, and as followed each previous situation of abuse or harassement by police, I spent much of Wednesday alternating between wanting to get back at that deputy (not really possible) and brainstorming ideas for how to avoid being detained for so long in the future. I wish I had had the presence of mind to get the officer's name so I could at least put him on on a web page as one of the persons to blame if I ever decide to go on a spree of "justice" against bad cops.

August 5, 2008

6:30, the sky still dark, so I kill time by looking for escaped chimpanzees.

Oh, yeah. Now that I wasn't in as much of a hurry I had time to go driving around downtown Macon looking for breakfast, and I found scrumptious biscuits at Jeneane's Cafe. Yum, yum, yum!

Okay, philosophical question. If you get off the toilet, wipe, wash, and then have to suddenly get back on the toilet before ever leaving the restroom, does that count as one communion or two?


My will sapped, I gave in to the pull of the Yuck.

The day was not without a ray of ligt, however. At the Shell station next to the Yuck-fil-a I found Tradewinds tea. It was in a plastic bottle instead of glass, and it was the sweet variety instead of extra sweet, but ince it had been weeks since I last scored, I was grateful for any taste of Tradewinds.

Oops! Almost forgot about The Wackness, but a mention of Ben Kingsley on NPR reminded me. Problem was only two theaters within 300 miles were screening it, and they were both in Atlanta. It looked like I wouldn't really be detouring much, if I went down to LaGrange and Columbus before B'ham, and the timing worked out almost perfectly. Just had to hurry up to Canton, not dawdle or chat to much, and then scoot 33 miles south along I-75 to the Landmark on Monroe.

An ancillary benefit of seeing the film was the opportunity to grab dinner from the Flying Biscuit Cafe, just a mile or two away, before the drive down towards Columbus.

Well, that little experiment turned out to be an abject failure. I was actually going under the speed limit, just under 70 MPH, when I saw a sheriff's vehicle, a suburban, parked under an overpass. I maintained my speed, around 65 MPH, and continue on. A few minutes later I saw in my rearview mirror what appeared to be a police vehicle (its profile seemed policely, and its color seemed to match that of the suburban) moving very quickly. Other cars moved out of its way, and soon it was in the gap between me and the pack behind me, and approaching quickly. When he neared me he slowed down, and I knew he was running my plate. Then he sped up, and I was hopeful he would just pass me. Instead, he pulled up right next to me and matched my speed. Oh, crap, I though--he's screwing with me like that cop a few month's back, looking for an excuse to pull me over.

So I decided to try something new--I pulled over proactively. As soon as the deputy came to my passenger-side window he said "You didn't have to pull over." and something like "I was just running your [ten(?)]". I replied that I had to pull over to avoid giving him a reason to pull over, like speeding, not being in the center lane, or following too close, the pretext used by that cop a month or two back. At some point the deputy became irritated and said "How about you give me your damn license." He also said "You better calm down." Shades of that cop in North Carolina who called into dispatch and claimed I was "hostile". I replied that I was calm. And he said something like "You'd better calm down some more. This is Georgia. You'll go to jail."

By then he was looking at my licensed and immediately asked about another name. We had to go back and forth over and over with me explaining that "Winter" was my only name. I could have insisted that he run my license, but all of a sudden I was realizing that this stop could end up taking longer than I anticipated, and the exact opposite of what I had planned. I figured it would be quicker to show my passport than to keep trying to explain. He did take finally stop asking questions and took passport and license back to his car, but then when he came back he asked me a bunch of questions about the destinations listed on the passport. I'll have to keep my passport to myself next time.

Worst thing though was that he kept my licensed back in his car a long, long time. Like 20 minutes or more. I thought back to an incident I had heard of, in which some type of police had stopped a group of males, Blacks I think, and kept them waiting for a really long time. This antagonized the group and, I think, provoked them into acting, and this resulted in either their beating, shooting, or arrest. Can't remember the details, but I had to consider the possibility that this deputy was intentionally trying to provoke me into getting out of my car and reacting.

What I did was to grab my phone, put it on speaker, and try to call Michael and tell im where I was. No answer. I thought about Rebecca, but she hardly ever answers. So I called my parent's house, and my mother answer. Not the best choice, as she fumbled to grab a pen and understand what I was telling her, what highway I was on and what exit. I couldn't figure out the county, and I didn't say what state I was in. Then I saw the deputy returning, and I quickly said I had to go and hung up.

Despite the fact that, obviously, my license came back clean, the deputy had a bunch of questions including about destinations on my passport, how long I was in Atlanta, how I could afford to travel, and ohher seemingly random queries. If she was fishing for something (terrorism?), I could not guess what it was. Again, perhaps he was trying to provoke me.

I think it was more than 30 minutes befofre Officer Curious George let me go, by which time I had no prayer of reaching Columbus before nightfall, which meant I had to spend the night there.

August 4, 2008


Hmm... trickines at the gas pump, perhaps? The large sign at the bp read $3.86, 6 cents fewer than at the Shell station across the street. So I made the left turn and pulled into the station, and only when I was at the pimp did I notice a paper sign reading "6 cents per gallon discount cash only". I suspect that I was being charged $3.92 for using my card, not $3.86. Grrr..

Must... resist... the pull of the Yuck. Seeing too much acne, and I suspect the greasy greasy Yuck is part of the reason.

In MacClenny I finally decided to make the 76-mile detour to Lake City. Truth be told, It was mine own fault that I missed the store while on the way to Orlando. It would probably only have been a 15-minute detour off the interstate, and if I had drive to the store around 4:00 or 4:30 AM and just slept there, it probably wouldn't have made that much different for the drive in the morning. I guess I had just been to preoccupied worrying about not forfeiting games. I should have stopped--would have saved me time and money. I guess I was figuring that since it was not on the closure list, I could visit it in the future, but more and more I'd been worrying that some months down the line Starbucks will announce another wave of closures, or even that moving forward Starbucks will make it standard policy to close stores that are not performing.

"Savannah Sand Gnats"??? I can't believe they actually named a local sports team the Sand Gnats.

Well, that was interesting. I drove around Savannah looking for food. Streets & Trips indicated Ray's Famous Cafe in the downtown area, but it was closed for the day. I tired of looking, so I just ordered a gyro from the Middle Eastern Cafe two doors down. The owner, Iranian, was of the opinion that the US is currently taking Iran's oil for free, and that Bush and Ahmadinejad had some sort of under-the-table deal. Oookay.

$3.64 gas in Brooklet, just east of Statesboro. That was the lowest I'd seen in weeks, or even in over a month. Saw $3.61 on the way out of town. Funny how $3.61 looks so cheap after you've seen prices over $5.00.

I don't know why, but this car ahead of me with the left turn signal going was driving me nuts. Wasn't an old person, either--the driver appeared to be a young male. I let him pass and then proceeded to flash my lights and alternate my turn signals, to try and clue him in, but all he did was accelerate to around 100 MPH. I kinda chased him a bit, then backed off, then accelerated again, until finally another car passed me at an even higher rate of speed. I finally decided to let the two go off into the sunset, and suddenly that annoying turn signal stopped. All was good again in the world.

August 3, 2008

Yay, overcast sky allowed me to sleep 'til 8:25.

I had chatted with one of my father's cousins the previous day, and he asked if I had a GPS in the car yet. I explained that I preferred to choose my own route. For example, sometimes I prefer to take a smaller highway instead of the interstate in order to find food. And so it was that from Jupiter I went east to US-1 to head up to the Stuart instead of the taking I-95. Not that US-1 is exactly a "small" highway, but Streets & Trips would have indicated I-95. Anyway, I quickly found the Corner Cafe, where I had to wait a long time for my pancakes. That better be an indication that they are good, I thought, as my wait draggged on.

I was hoping to finish up the new Jacksonville-area stores and be in Georgia by nightfall, but I sabotaged my efforts by pulling over into a rest area about 10 miles before Palm Bay and napping. The sky was cloudy, but not cloudy enough, and I actually had to run my air conditioning otherwise I'd start sweating immediately.

Hehe, I ran into something in Vero Beach. The manager had put together a six minute video promoting Starbucks all over, and after photos and video of local Treasure Coast stores, I started to see photos of stores all over with "I've Been Everywhere" playing. Took me a few seconds, but it dawned on me that the photos were from my own web site!

August 2, 2008


Yo, Colombians be all up in the Miami area. Found another restaurant, La Calenita, in Hollywood. Better chicharron, but not great.

Ooh, good thing I called CityPlace II to check on what time they opened on Sunday. Not 'til 10:00 AM, too long to wait. That meant I could not hang around Boynton Beach overnight so I could photograph those two stores in the morning. I had to get up to CityPlace and either way there 'til morning for a day photo or, if I chose, drive back to Boynton Beach. Nah, I'll just reshoot those stores another year (assuming they aren't put on a closure list in the future). Not worth driving 10 miles south and then north again for the photo when I'm sure I'll drive that route in a year or two.

August 1, 2008


People, people, people. When convinced she is right, you can hardly change a person's mind for nothing. At the first store I visited in the Miami area, I spotted a green receipt in the trash. I asked if Miami was also a test market for the treat receipts, and the red-headed barista said the receipts were all over the country. I told her no, just Phoenix and Portland, and she said they were at least all over Florida. I told her I had just visited some 30-40 stores out in west Florida and Orlando without seeing the receipts, and she insisted I was wrong. In fact, when she looked at me like I was a nut, especially when I said I'd been to 8600 stores. I was a little upset, not about the receipt issue, but because it is this type of dogmatism, in the form of religious fervor, that causes so much suffering in the world.

Man, I really need a more powerful zoom lens!

As soon as I caught a glimpse of the sign, Frijolitos, I suspected the restaurant tucked away in a shopping center was not Mexican. I was extra pleased to find it was Colombian, but the beans and rice and plaintains were merely okay, and the chicharron was too dry and hard.

Finally made the drive to one of the Florida keys, Key Largo. I had hoped the drive would be like what I saw in the movie True Lies (without the explosions), but I was underwhelmed. I guess I'll have to drive farther south, closer to Key West, for that.

July 31, 2008

Woke up just in time, at 6:53, and drove across the parking lot and back to the Tire & Lube center to see what time they opened. The sign said 7:00, and not two minutes later another car arrived and got in line behind me. Then another. And two more. Around 7:05 I heard the door opening, and I quickly spoke to the employee to make sure I would be checked in outside, and not inside the office. He then had the car behind me move over one lane to wait, and I overheard the impatient driver comment, "This is bullshit."

Wow, I thought I'd seen everything when I came to poor massage service, but clearly I have not. After looking all morning, I finally found a massage place that offered a reasonably priced half hour, $30, and had a therapist awailable right away (the owner, I gathered later). I was immediately surprised when April left the door to the room slightly open, which meant that I could hear her son out in the office puttering about and making noise. Given this, I was not at all surprised when she answered her mobile phone, something that always irritates me and that other, better, therapists often find shocking (when I recount such stories). But what took the cake was when her son actually came into the room to give her the office phone. Letting the kid into the room--jeez Louise! At least it couldn't get worse. Oh wait, I spoke too soon--the saga continued. She proceeded to have a conversation with the person on the other end, somebody trying to sell a new credit card machine. Not long after she hung up, there was a knock on the door, and her son was quickly back, saying there was someone at the door. Some back and forth about who was at the door. Completely the wrong mood for a massage, and I was glad to get out of there. As she ran my car, she said the massage was $30 and asked if I wanted to add anything extra. HAH, I thought. Fat chance of that.

I also failed on the food front, and I was greatly surprised. With all the Cuban and Latin restaurants I had seen that morning as I drove thru Tampa, I expected to find at last one Cuban restaurant serving tostones in St. Petersberg or Clearwater. But after driving around for about two hours across many Starbucks, I saw not a one. I finally had to settle, in downtown St. Petersburg, for a pseudo-Cuban place serving beans, rice, and chicken, but no plaintains.

Grrr... further irritation in Bradenton. I did not say who I was and just ordered a short cup, in the sample cup, and the first barista just gave it to me. Then I went into the bathroom for my third communion of the day, and when I came out the coffee had disappeared. The other barista, presumably the one who had thrown it away, did not seem too apologetic for having tossed my coffee. And when I asked for her to fill the sample cup, she gave me a look of disdain. What nerve--first she tosses a cup of coffee that is clearly full, undrunk, and then she gives me the stink-eye when I ask her to replace what she took???

But it gets better. When I went out to the car I had only drunk half the coffee, and I managed to spill the other half all over my pants. So I went back inside where the second barista was at the register and asked for a refill, handing her my card as I did so. Her response was to snidely say something like "You want a refill for something you didn't pay for??" She just gave me back the card and did not charge me, but I'd had enough of her attitude.

I went back into the store, asked how much was a short coffee, and plunked te $1.60 down on the counter. I didn't need a fucking sample if it was going to come with attitude from some fucking bitch who doesn't belong working for Starbucks.

Damn, $9.41 for my dinner at Jason's Deli. I'm pretty sure I remember paying around $6 for the same thing years ago.

July 30, 2008


Exceptional friendly from the manager at the new store in The Villages. As soon as I sat down she said I looked familiar, and it immediately came to her who I was. While there I even spoke to a reporter for the local paper who seemed interested in my story. I had actually been surprised that I had not been contacted sooner about the Starbucks implosion and my attempt to reach all stores before they closed.

Something unusual in Tampa, a Cuban restaurant run by gentleman from Pittsburgh. Las Palmas might very well have been the first Cuban restaurant run by a non-Cuban.

July 29, 2008


I felt physically ill upon reading the news, especially when I read that the store closures would happen by August 3rd, Sunday. Had I been given a month's notice, I could have visited them all, but it was now impossible. A quick visit to Travelocity showed that I could not arrive in Sydney until Thursday evening, which would leave me just three days. Since Starbucks was in at least 6 cities, and Australia is a big continent, the task was effectively impossible even if I was willing to spend thousands of dollars. With my own plane, maybe.

I felt a bit betrayed. After eleven years of Starbucking and countless media appearances that have generated press for Starbucks, I felt that the least Starbucks could have done was to give me a few weeks head start.

Finished my 14-14 run at the NSC around 7:00, took John to the La Quinta Inn, picked up some more tostones, went back to the Royal Pacific to give Rebecca her things and say goodbye...

And it was back to the war!

July 25, 2008

7:03 made over 7 hours of sleep. 1256 miles to Orlando with just a few extra miles for Starbucks stops (I would really need the caffeine). , 25 hours and 42 minutes until my first game is forfeited. Oy vey!!!

As I took the photo a barista came outside. I thought she was going to be hostile, and, with no time to lecture her about the law, I just rushed for rmy car. But instead of a belligerent rebuke she asked, "are you the one going to all the Starbucks?" I hurriedly replied "Yes, but I don't have time--I have to get to Orlando." She expressed disappointment and indicated they wanted to take a photo. She also said that the store might not be closing after all, which was very interesting given Starbucks' claims that the list is final.

I was about to get...

Okay, just 30 miles extra to go through Mount Pleasant, with the upshot that I take US-380 and avoid the D/FW metroplex altogether, which might actually yield some time savings if there is no construction delay on 380.

Spacing out DoubleShots like timed medication.

11:35, Mount Pleasant

12:31, Longview



6:30, I exited I-20 onto US-49, and my fears were realized. Streets & Trips plotted that route as 50 miles shorter than taking I-49 through Alexandria down to I-10, but I risked traffic. And I lost. Well, maybe not that much. Maybe 10-15 minutes, which is less than what it would have cost to drive the extra 50 miles. Plus I got two Monroe stores out of the way (albeit at great time cost).

Ugh. Way too much time spent in Hattiesburg, but much of that was on the toilet, and thus necessary. If you drink 3 DoubleShots, you have to expect to suffer the consequences.

1:46 AM, listen to the last minute of the canceled Bryant Park Project--kinda sad.

Stop driving at 3:30, 1140 miles in a day, a personal record.

July 24, 2008

6:17, (5:17 before time change), fight serious sleep intertia

My luck finally ran out, in Hondo...


Lawton and Wichita Falls might be too far, no signal

Whew! Finally got a signal (roaming) just miles before I needed to decide whether to deviate from the route to Altus and go to Lubbock, thus leaving Altus, Lubbock, and Wichita Falls until after Orlando. But Lawton would close at 11:00, so I'd definitel yget thru there and be able to drive to Wichita Falls. That would still leave over 1200 miles to drive all on Friday (well, maybe I could leave 200 miles for Saturday morning). That kind of drive would still be tough, but eaier than 1300.

DAMMIT, DAMMIT, DAMMIT!!! Just 30 minute earlier. 15 minutes, even, and I would have gotten a halfway-decent photo of Altus. It was painful to think back at all the places I could have saved that time. Not getting pulled over, for one. Not back tracking to see

Speed was critical, so I looked at Streets & Tripss to see what restaurants were near the Starbucks in Altus. Benny's Pizza & Mexican seemed a bizarre menu combination, but they had an individual pizza, so I placed my order. The werdict: worst... pizza... ever. So much so that I could only eat half.

Reached Lawtown around 10:14 and faced a dilemma. Since there was no point in shorting myself on sleep and then pooping out the next day before reaching Orlando, it made sense to sleep 8 hours, by which time the sky should be light.

But there was an additional factor. X-Files: I Want to Believe, at midnight. If it had been in Lawton, I would have rationalized that I simply could not kill 90 minutes. But it was in Wichita Falls, where I need to go anyway. By the time I got out of Lawton and drove the 60 miles, I'd arrive at the theater pretty much in time for the movie. But with my schedule the way it was, I couldn't really spare those two hours, could I? Well, there were other factors to consider. For one, I wasn't feeling that sleepy yet. For all I knew, I was going to toss and turn for 30 minutes or more before sleeping. Another factor was that if I waited in Lawton 'til morning, I'd go ahead and reshoot the old store--another 10 minutes or more, at least.

While looking up the movie listings and making comments to the male barista, a bubbly blonde barista was curious what we were talking about. When she understood that there was a midnight screening in Wichita Falls, and that I was thinking of driving down, her face contorted and she asked "You're going by yourself???" You had to see the look on her face. She might as well have been asking, "You're going to cut your nuts off?" Her implication was that going to the movie by my self was a fate worse than death. But let me be clear that her reaction was in no way unique. I have encountered many woman, young women, and women not that young, who seem to regard with horror the act of going to the movies alone, just for the movie's sake. Just to see the movie. This one, in particular, clearly did not undertstand the appeal of he X-Files. She may have been cute, but she was clueless.

July 23, 2008


Heh. Schadenfreude. I narrowly avoided blowing past a state trooper as I merged onto I-10. We were driving east into the sun, so it was hard to see. As I expected, several miles later, a car came up on the group, clearly going 10 MPH or more faster, and swerving across lanes to pass. Eventually he saw the trooper, but too late. Busted.

AARRGHH!!! MOTHERFUCKERS!!! I'm trying to get thru the Phoenix-area stores as quickly as possible, and the motherfuckers fuck up what exit??? Mine!!! No quick hop-off, hop-on at Dysart, but instead of HUGE loss of precious time!!! FUCK THEM ALL!!!

On top of that, Phoenix-area intersections are just generally fucked up. I could not see the Starbucks until I was in the process of crossing McDowell, and it was not until that point that I discovered that there was no entrance into the shopping center. Furthermore, the next light prohibited u-turns. I had no idea how far up I would have to go to turn around, and I didn't want to take the chance of losing a million years, so it was easier to cut back across three lanes (thus annoying some people), parking at the center across the street, and then sprinting across eight lanes and then jumping the wall.

Time was precious, so I succumbed to the pull of the Yuck... and again I had to park and run across the street.

And again for the convenience store!!! WTF!!! WHY CAN'T WHAT I NEED BE ON MY SIDE OF THE ROAD???

And the stupid store didn't even have soda cans. Wait, wait... they did have cans--but they were these monstrous 16 or 20 oz things.

Something new, called a "treat receipt", on green paper. Good for a $1 discount off a cold trink after 1 PM.

IS THERE NO END TO IT??? Next store, exit Bell off the 101, and the leftmost lanes after the ramp look like u-turn lanes but are actually for turning left. So I get in the lanes which, in any sane city, would be left-turn lanes, and they instead force me to turn right. I hate this place.

Another delay, my fault this time. I misjweedged how much gas I had, and by the time I got from Anthem to Scottsdale I had been on empty for a looong time. There was no gas between the freeway and the Starbucks, and the next store was over 10 miles away.

All those delays added up, and in the end I had to skip 19th Ave. & Baseline. Detouring back there would have put me in the middle of the outbound rush, and I just couldn't spare that time.

Ach!!! I passed right by Alma School & Chandler Heights, but it doesn't open 'til Friday!

July 22, 2008

6:22, otherwise known as a villain.

Oakdale Cafe, decent pancakes.

No juice at the Oakdale Starbucks, so I went across the street to the Save Mart and was pleased to see that the expansion of the Brown Cow brand of yogurt seemed to be proceeding nicely. I used to just see it at natural foods markets like Whole Foods, but now I was seeing it at more conventional grocery stores like Raley's and even Save Mart.

As I left a new Modesto store, I could not have been more glad that Starbucks would be opening fewer US store moving forward. The look I received from the supervisor was so vicious, so deadly, so filled with hate and/or contempt, that I never wanted to explain my project to another barista again. With only 200 store openings for 2009, at most I'd spend $300 if I had to pay for a short coffee at each location. I figured that was a small price to pay to avoid all the lousy treatment from baristas around the country. And actually it wasn't going to be that expensive. Now the Starbucks card was good for a free refill, I could expect to get the refills free at many locations. Not at all. Even though I made a point of drinking the coffee right in front of the barista, to foster the illusion that I had purchased it there, I still ran into the baristas who were stickelers for rules. After three stright successes, I finally ran into one who asked if I had purchased the drink there and then said she had to charge me full price, minus a cup discount.

You know, I think all I really want out of life is to be able to shout across a room, "hey fat girl, come here, are you ticklish?" and have her actually fall for the line.

Okay, that was wewird. Crazy ol d man in Visalia shakes his finger at me and says "No obscene pictures!"

July 21, 2008

AARRGHH!!! I HATE TRANSIT VILLAGE!!! Despite fatigue, I forcecd myself up at 6:03 so I could avoid rush hour traffic in San Francisco. Unfortunately, the Transit Village store was not plotted, so I had to call for directions. I specifically said I was on the 101, and what I was told, to take the Hickey exit, made no sense, kind of like this sentence, I discovered as soon as I hung up and looked at my map. I called back, and after much tortuous back-and-forth, it became clear the clueless barista was thinking of I-280, not US-101!!! How do you live in the Bay Area and not now that US-101 and I-280 are two completely differennt freeways. It's like with Barak Obama and Osama Bin Laden--there not the same person!!!

And a final piece of irritation at the now-accursed Transit Village, locked bathrooms!

Quickly sailed thru two central SF stores, worried about parking each time.

At least one thing went right that morning--I managed to ge through South San Francisco and then three SF stores, and to get breakfast, in just two hours.

Furthermore, I made it up to Santa Rosa and back, and then out to Benicia, quickly enough that I was able to detour back into SF to perform an experiment at the O'Farrell Theater. I had wanted to go Sunday night, but having to wait forr stupid Transit Village killed that plan. It would only have been a 20-mile round trip from South San Francisco, but I really preferred to use that time to sleep. Anyway, my experiment worked out beautifully, and quickly. I found parking a couple of hundred feet away, put 30 minutes worth of coins in the meter, and that's all the time I needed. Though the results were not exactly what my hypothesis had predicted, I would still call my experiment an arousing success.

I don't usually go for Asian food, but by the time I reached Livermore I was famished. I wanted to order close to the Starbucks so I could pick up my order after the visit, but all I saw was a pizza place. No slices or pasta though, so I decided to take a look at the Korean restaurant next door. I couldn't remember having seen too many Korean restaurants anywhere in the country, so I figured I'd give them a try. I ordered the fried rice, but then I almost had to cancel my order when I saw that the minimum for a credit card was $20. I guess she young lady at the register wanted my business though, because she said she would run it anyway.

And then, over at the no-name convenience store where I bought a soda, I was not sure whether the elderly cashier was drunk, high, or just ditzy. She was talking really weird.

Nuts. The Flag City store is closing, and I was not able to reach it before the light disappeared. I got a crappy photo, but I would probably never get the ideal photo that I like to have for each store.

July 20, 2008

Up earlier than I hoped, 5:10, sky not even light yet, so I had to wait for light before I could photograph two stores and then rush to Scrabble.

On top of the closures and the missing 80 photo, I discovered yet another problem with my photos/database, some photos of Bay Area stores were either missing or mislabeled along with some Taiwan photos. Jeez, I thought, this is a nightmare. Is someone sneaking onto my computer and messing with my photos? Highly unlikely, I know, and a bit later, once I calmed down and stopped cursing the heavens, I remembered that I had actually discovered this problem months earlier, maybe last year. Why I was seeing it again was a mystery to me, but at least all the missing photos were relatively close together in the South Bay, and I'd be able to get them all and not have to kill myself or plea for others to do it.

Got ass kicked, so basically waste half a day, and rushed off as fast as possible to reshoot, reshoot, reshoot, and visit, visit, visit.

WHAT... THE... FUCK. I called Transit Village to find out what time they closed, and I was told 8:00 PM. I went back to looking at the stops up to that point and determine I would not make it by 8:00. So naturally I called back to find out what time they opened in the morning, and, unbelievable, after saying 5:00 AM, that fucking bitch on the phone (with a really annoying voice, BTW) snaps at me and asks, "Are you the same person who called before?" WTF, I thought, and asked "Is there a problem." "No there isn't," she said coldly before she hung up. My first thought was, I really hope that store is on the closure list (it isn't) and that barista doesn't find a new position.

Wow, nobody told me it was bitch and asshole night at the Bay Area Starbucks. The two San Jose baristas had both given me nasty looks, the bitch in South San Francisco didn't like me calling about store hours, and now the pock-faced supervisor at a new Union City store stink-eyed me when I asked him to fill the cup. But that wasn't all--since he had not filled it all the way, I pulled out my card and ordered a short from a different barista. To avoid wasting another cup, I asked him to put it in the sample cup. As usual, it was a struggle to explain what I wanted, but this time the supervisor intervened with a cup and began to fill it before I could stop him. Asshole. So much for Starbucks' environmental stance.

And, finally, ouchie tummy. As I went to sleep on Industrial Way (or was it Industrial Road), I wondered if the discomfort in my gut would explode and force me to go find the back of a dumpster somewhere.

July 19, 2008


At a new West Covina store I caught a glimpse of a young girl, probably not even 16, wearing a shirt that read "HUSTLER", or so it seemed to me--I had only seen the last few letters. Wow, I thought, and wondered why the girl's mother, who was right there, would let her wear such a provocative t-shirt. The girl was still in braces, for Pete's sake! She looked rather innocent in the ways of the world. Then, she turned around, and I saw that the shirt actually read "HOLLISTER". Oh.

Okay, that didn't work out at all. I was craving that well-priced juice, and really that Emmi yogurt, so I asked about fresh & easy. The directions I was given were not specific enough, on top of which I had to deal with a couple of non-English speaking passersby. After all my driving around, I probably wasted more in gas than I had saved if I had just bought an Odwalla from Starbucks. But, but, but the fresh & easy juice is better, as is the Emmi yogurt.

Learned a couple of more things about fresh & easy. Apples are not sold individually--only by the bag. The reason is that the automated registers do not have scales. Bananas are the only fruit sold indivually, and each one is a flat 18 cents regardless of weight.

Dammit, dammit, dammit! Just two weeks ago, July 5th, the store at 12th & Hill decided to be closed on Sunday. But nobody e-mailed to tell me about the closure, so I did not alter my route to hit downtown LA on Friday like I could have. THANKS A LOT!!! Fortunately it is not on the closure list, which means I can skip it and save myself having to return to downtown LA, but given the number of stores in the general area, I will have to fear that there will be a second wave of closures announced in the next year.

Didn't want to detour too far since I was already running way behind, but the Pico & San Vicente store was just too close to Versailles for me to pass up tostones.

Whoop, there itg is! Finally say a gas price over $5.09!!! In L.A. (of course). I thought maybe I should by a gallon or two at that price just to say I did it.

Whew, that was a close call. On the way to the new Moorpark store I passed a local arts center, or theater, that was screening Never Say Never Again at that very moment. I did not really have two hours to spend, but the allure of seeing the movie on the big screen was strong. Fortunately, when I asked about my suspicion that the screening was from a DVD, and not from actual film, I got the answer I expected, and I was able to continue on my way without regret.

Even more expensive pasta, in Moorpark, but not nearly as good as Red Balls.

AARRGHH!!! PLEASE SOMEBODY KILL ME!!! PLEASE SOMEBODY KILL ME NOW!!! MY LIFE IS NOW SHIT!!! SOMEHOW I MANAGED TO LOSE 81 PHOTOS FROM APRIL, REPRESENTING OVER 30 STORES NEWLY VISITED AND ANOTHER 20 RESHOOTS. I have no idea if the loss is related to my failing hard drive, or if I simply never copied those photos over to my backup drive. Either way, this is the worst thing that has happened to me in a long time. Just when I was getting over the panic induced my the implosion announcement, the fear that stores would close before I could get to them, now I have to deal with the fear that stores will close before I can get full-resolution, daylight photos of them. If that happens, my suffering, while not as great as if I missed a store I had never visited at all, would still be considerable. Of course I didn't know if any photos I had last were of stores that would close. Frankly, I was afraid to check the closure list. But I'll have to eventually, unless you save me the trouble AND KILL ME KILL ME KILL ME! You know what stores I still need to visit, you know where I'm going to be, so find yourself a sniper rifle and PUT ME OUT OF MY MISERY. PLEEEEEEASE!!!

July 18, 2008

After forcing myself back to sleep over and over, I finally gave up at 8:57. That was barely five hours of sleep, and I knew I would be crashing hard at some point in the day.

After several days of seeing "fresh & easy" locations throughout the state I finally decided to check out location across the parking lot from a Starbucks. The place appeared sterile, and the pickings appeared slim, but I did find a couple of items of interest. Some European (Swiss, I think) style yogurt called Emmi that was really good. More interestingly, two varieties of fresh squeeze juice, one pasteurized and the other not. I bought the unpasteurized for 30 cents less.

Expensive, $4.15, but when I saw a place called Mishi's Strudel, in San Pedro, advertising itself as a Hungarian bakery and cafe, I could not help but go in and try a strudel. I mean, how often do I encounter Hungarian bakeries (umm... never).

Merely mediocre red beans & rice from a place in or near Santa Monica called Uncle Darrow's. I might have enjoyed some sausage as well, but that's not what the full meal included. Instead, for around four dollars more, the meal included just salad and bread (and presumably a larger portion of beans & rice). I found this strange, because 4 bucks seems a lot to pay for salad and bread.

After feeling hints throughtout the morning, strong fatigue finally hit at the worst time, when I was on the way from Santa Monica to west Malibu. THe distance was just 10 miles, but traffic was heavy, and it was a struggle to reach the Starbucks where I finally had to nap in the parking lot. Annoyingly enough, my nap was cut short because the sun decided to come out after having been hidden behind clouds for much the day. Usually I welcome the sun for my photos, but I really needed sleepy sleep.

Famished, I pulled a u-turn on the way to the much-delayed Canoga & Sherman store simply because the name, Red Balls Pizza, looked interesting. Usually I would have balked at the prize, $10 for the pasta alone, plus $3 for meatballs. But I had a feeling about the place, and that feeling turned out correct--the spaghetti was one of the most delicious I had had in recent memory.

Don't know when it happened, but at the Ventura store I noticed that the rope holding up the center of the bumper had broken. The left and right ropes had held, though.

July 17, 2008

Around 4:00, just as I expected, I heard the staff showing up to open the store. I probably startled the trio of young ladies when I hopped to the front of my car, but I quickly cracked my window and asked, "4:30?", thus letting them know I was awaiting the store's opening. I tried to go back to sleep, but at 4:16 I heard a vehicle pull up, and I quickly hopped out of the car and took my place next to the door of the Starbucks. The driver wasn't competition, though--he was actually on the job, there to help finish setting up the store.

I got close to finishing my Star Wars paperback while I waited, and shortly after 4:30 AM I was beckoned into the store. I quickly made my purchase (so I would have a receipt for proof), post for a photograph, used the restroom, and went back out to the car. I moved to a darker spot in the area of the LA Fitness and went back to sleep.

Around 6:17 I was woken by a voice, someone arriving to the LA Fitness and talking to his buddy, so I moved over behind the Rite-Aid. With the knowledge that The Dark Knight would not screen until midnight, instead of 8:00 (like Iron Man) and would run 2 1/2 hours (plus 15-20 minutes of previews), I was desperate to load up on sleep. But less than 14 minutes later, Wilberto the Weed-Wacking Wrangler came by and made further sleep difficult. The onset of a mild headache made sleep impossible, and I had to give it up.

Head down towards San Diego and some miles east, to Alpine. While I gave my spiel I was overheard by an attractive young woman named Sarah who had many questions about my project. I would usually have been and seemed more excited by this, but I was really exhausted. Despite my determination to not build up a sleep deficit, I was doing just that, and the midnight screening of The Dark Knight was not going to help.

Outside, Sarah caught up to me before I left and asked for a photo. While the supervisor took her camera, she lightly put her arm around my shoulder, which immediately made me conscious of the serious stink I had to be rocking. Good thing we were outside, where there was a breeze.

Finally, after nine days without a shower and several days seeking out a massage that met the appropriate conditions (price, shower, location, availability), I stumbled across one along my route from the Rosecrans store out to the freeway. She was no 20-something cutie, but all those in the San Diego area seemed to be charging much more than I had expected, like $70 or more for a HALF hour. I only paid a special price of $30, and the shower alone would have been worth it (a motel would cost at least $40, probably more)--the fact that massage was actually decent meant I was a winner either way. Of course I had been kind of curious to see just how many days I could go without a shower, but there are tangible downsides to that.

Sometimes you win, and sometimes you lose. I didn't lose exactly, but the high hopes I had for a late breakfast from the Antique Row Cafe in what appeared to be a neat little neighborhood of San Diego, well those opesh were not realized. The biscuit, bacon, and potatoes were all dry and rough--they hit the trifecta!

What the hell happened to my day??? 3:14 PM, and I'd only visited 10 stores!!! And to boot, I was feeling really fatigued. I feared that if I did not try to nap, I would not be able to stay awake for The Dark Knight.

I knew there was a rest area on I-5 south between the OC and San Diego, but I wasn't sure about northbound. Luckily, there was, and I was able to get nearly an hour of sleep, maybe more (lost track of the time).

uk mor jakker tiwal

AARRGHH!!! A day or three after reading an article claiming that the Galesburg was safe, a different article reporting it is closing. Very frustrating since I had actually been to that store but found it closed due to a boil water order. Well, the good news for the day, great news actually, was the release of the full list of 600 store closures. The bad news was that Galesburg was truly on that list, and that would mean a significant time and gas expenditure. Similiarly for some stores in Nebraska, Gaylord, MI, and Wisconsin Rapids, WI. That latter store was particularly frustrating because I had been relatively close, less than 100 mile detour away, but I had skipped it because of my rush to get to the NAST final. If I had known about the closure, I would have taken extraorindary steps to visit it.

I had planned to visit stores right up until 10:00, 10:30, or even 11:00 and then find the nearest multiplex for The Dark Knight, but it wasn't even 9:30 when I was hit by a wave of sudden and powerful fatigue. I looked up the theater nearest Rosecrans & Shoemaker, and it was just a few miles away. I wanted to get over there ASAP to buy my ticket and then nap, but I needed food first. A burrito place was just down the street, but since I was in a big hurry it was only natural that te crumb bums would booby trap my burrito with onions and peppers.

As I expected, the crowd that patronized the AMC in Norwalk was a goodly percentage rowdy. During the wait, beach balls were tossed throughout the theater, and some members in the back took to harassing some balding heavyset guy in the front. After putting up with this for a while, he turned around and shouted something I couldn't understand, but that included "I'm going to get angry." Fortunately, the previews started soon after that... and ust as quickly cut off. Some kind of problem with the projector, and after some time the crowd was getting really pissed. By the time the previews ended and the movie started, it was 12:37. I didn't get out until 3:00. The movie was excellent, beyond excellent even, but yoicks, it was late!

July 16, 2008

Around 5:30 I was beset with not just sleeplessness but also the beginnings of a headache, probably dehydration. I drank as much as I could and tried desperately to sleep, but I had to give up 10 minutes later.

Heh, passed a branch of IndyMac bank--no rioting (too early).

Aw, man!!! That is just not what I needed. My dad warned me when I bought the Fit that the front bumper was too low. After eight months of lightly scraping and bumping, I finally tapped one of those concrete parking thingies too hard and dislodged part of the thing under the bumper, a splash guard perhaps? I shoved it back up, but as I drove to the next store it came loose again. I went across the street to Vons to see what they might have, and I found some twine. I tied it up as best I could, and I wondered if the twine would eventually fray and snap from the car vibrations.

Heh, my exit to Brea.. "Lambert Road"!

Jeez Louise, where do these people get these ideas. A barista in Brea insisted that she had seen a book written buy a man who had visited every Starbucks in the world. Of course, unless she is a time traveler who saw my book in the future, she could not have seen such a book. When I tried to explain to her that she was either thinking of my documentary, or the book by Bryant Jennings, who had been to several hundred stores, she looked at me like I was crazy and didn't know what I was talking about. Hey, maybe she is a time traveler?

Interesting. Usually traffic, and LA traffic especially, bugs me, but I was feeling unusually calm this morning. I got onto SR-57 southbound from Imperial, heading to Fullerton to reshoot some stores before heading to new ones, and even though traffic was stop and go, I did not mind. I was chill. I was chilly chill.

I was not so chill after an Anaheim store where I received treatment that seemed to go beyond subfriendly. After the supervisor gave me a nasty look when I asked her to fill the sample cup and then came back with it not filled to the requisite amount, I ordered a short iced coffee from the other barista. They only sold iced in tall, so I just ordered a short and had her stop after just pouring a splash. I poured a few drops into my iced and walked away over to condiment bar (forgetting I didn't need to put sugar in), and I overheard the supervisor saying something like "there's a whole story there." I assumed the barista had asked the supervisor why I had paid $1.50 for just a splash, and I infer that the supervisor knew exactly who I was but did not care for me (which explains her nasty look).

By contrast, at the next store, the manager and a barista had both been to my website and seemed thrilled to meet me. The barista, and a manager from another store, seemed to really get a kick when I showed them a photo of the Lock Keepers Cottage store, one of my favorites.

I knew that guy was trippin'! Nice tho he was, the barista's claims that Cancun Juice, a small Mexican eatery, served fried green plaintains. I went across the street, and, just as depicted on the menu, all they had were maduros. As much as I wanted to continue searching for the good food I knew existed in the Southland, I needed to stay foodified to avoid headache, so I settled for El Pollo Loco. Yay.

In the same parking lot as El Pollo Loco was a healing center offering massage. As much as I needed a shower, I didn't want to waste

Interesting. Many gas stations are offering discounts for cash, and a couple of massage spas I passed also offered the discounts. I wondered if the fees for credit card use were all of a sudden higher in California, or if this was just a technique to try and mitigate the effects of the higher gas prices.

Panic in Laguna Beach as I walked up to the immenently-closing Boat Canyon store, pulled on the door... and found it locked!!! Say what what what? I asked an old man passing by for the time--2:05. And sure enough, the sign on the door said 2:00 PM. AARRGHH!!! I knocked on the door and beckoned the barista sweeping the floor to come over, and I asked to speak to the supervisor or manager. He said he was, and I explained myself. He was unyielding, but I could not afford the time it would have taken me to return. By coincidence, the reason I was late was because I had been chatting with the DM of the Newport Coast store, so I asked this supervisor to call over there and verify my story. After an anxious five minutes, during which thoughts of gloom and doom ran through my mind, the supervisor came back with a coffee. Whew!!!

BTW, if the DM or manager of the Newport Coast store is reading this, big thanks for helping a brother out. Hellboy II: The Golden Army political dream

July 15, 2008

I think I was about to fall asleep when some asshole shouted "WHAT ARE YOU DOING!!!" He was talking to someone else in the parking lot, not me, but the surge of adrenalin from being startled made it impossible for me to fall asleep again. Even though I felt fine to drive now that it was light out, I worried that only having gotten six hours, at best, was going to result in fatigue and headaches later in the day.

Okay, a week without a shower, and I definitely had some funk radiating. When you can smell yourself, that's funky. Mighty gamey is what my shirt smelled like, and I don't even want to tell you about my briefs. My socks weren't too bad since I had been baking and airing them, but it was probbably time to swap out for a new pair. It occurred to me that since Rebecca was all the time claiming to miss me, that I should box up my smelly clothes and ship them to her so she could spread them out on the bed and pretend I was there. When I proposed this to Rebecca, she did not seem to keen on the idea. I guess she doesn't miss me that much.

AARRGHH!!! Finally time for an oil change, and when I spotted a Jiffy Lube across the street from a Mexican place I decided to stop in. But I forgot to grab my paperback when I went across the street, which meant that while I waited for my burrito... I WASTED TIME. If you accept as an axiom that there is nothing more valuable in the universe than time, then wasting time is the most egregiously heinous of acts.

4:10, there it was, the drowsiness I knew would come. Had to fight it, at least until 20-25 stores, if I wans't going to make 30 (not looking likely).

Lucked out big time at the Ontario Mills location. I had been wondering for over a month, since I first called the store and learned it was something called a "RETAIL" location, whether I would be able to drink coffee from it. And, if not, what I would do. But a manager on duty happened to recognize me from another store visit, and he happened to be about to do a French press, so I was able to drink the coffee from that store and ensure that the prophecy will be fulfilled (when I finally get to every store).

Reached a new Chino store and saw not the Vivanno t-shirts and promos, but instead t-shirts and posters for something called Sorbetto.

July 14, 2008

5:45 (Pacific), 9 hours of sleep--excellent.

Jesus Christ, where does Starbucks find these people??? Stupid barista in Kingman claims her manager told her not to reveal when the manager is coming in. I want to speak to the manager, but she wants to hide from me??? Are Starbucks managers being targeted for assassination??? WTF??? Stop hiring stupid people Starbucks, and stop allowing stupid policies!!! Now I have no idea whether I need to detour to Kingman or not.

Okay, she did in fact call me back, so perhaps I was too harsh. Perhaps I need to lay off the coffee--it might affect my mood.

Cuba Quick

4:55, it begins. my massive blitz thru California. I made my task easier by clearign Sacramento and then heading north, but I still had 160 stores to go, excluding Crescent City and Fortuna. And since this task would take at five days at an aggressive and optimistic rate of 30/day, some new stores would probably open.

AAAHHH!!! HELP!!! BEES KEEP INVADING MY CAR! Second time in three days that a bee invaded my car--if this keeps up I'm going to wreck.

After three stores in the Victorville area, I changed my plans about heading west and north and decided to pick off the Lake Arrowhead store instead. Streets & Trips showed I could take SR-173 there, and for the second time in three days I was led astray onto an unpaved road, and this time thru a mountain. But this road was even worse than the Washington one--it was extremely bumpy at times, making me fear for my tires. Also, it was not wide enough for two cars two pass, requiring some tricky negotiations a couple of times.

On top of that, about 3 miles after the road became paved again, it was closed. I nearly went nuts with concern that I would have to backtrack along that hellish route, but fortunately there was another route. While passing thru a neighborhood I asked a homeowner about the closed road, and he said it had been that way for years, since it was flooded after a fire. He said the country (state?) didn't really care about fixing it.

The only good thing about that route was that I got to witness the filming of an actual movie, called Pickin' and Grinnin'. The road was closed for a minute or two while a scene was shot.

Lost so much time getting to Lake Arrowhead that I only made it to 8 California stores that day (plus the 11 Nevada). I had hoped for 10, which would leave 150 that I hoped to spread out across 5 days.

Yay, The Closer is back! And by an odd coincidence, it just happened to occur to me to google the show earlier that day, and I discovered the season would premiere tonight. Even if I had not googled, I would have found out anyway because the show was profiled on Talk of the Nation.

July 13, 2008

7:20 (Mountain Time)

Interesting--is it my imagination, or does this Simply Orange juice from Wal-Mart taste different from the ones I had been buying at Safeway.

When the Sunrise Cafe put "big" biscuit on their menu, they weren't kidding--it was huge! Looked about the same as the biscuit from the Original Hotcake and Pancake House (in Portland), but not as flavorful.

Strange muscle sensations, even though I had only visited 9 stores on Saturday (but I consumed 3 DoubleShots from Friday).

Wow. I surely made a mistake, changing my mind at the last minute while at some place called Ruby River in Idaho Falls and ordering a pulled pork sandwich instead of a cheeseburger. Worst pulled pork I'd ever had, bone dry in places. I paid a lot for it took and I wondered if Ruby River would make good if I contacted them to complain.

The cook at One Man Band was not a very good salesman--he did not convey the idea that their chili was any good. Despite this, I had the craving, and I ordered a cup. And you know, it was pretty decent, and it really enhanced the flavor of my bacon cheeseburger.

Something new on I-15 south towards Nevada. They aren't called rest areas, but "rest stops", with the label "public/private partnership". The one I stopped at was run in conjunction with Chevron. Anyway, I could have driven much farther, as it was only 8:45 (Pacific) when I stopped, but I decided that it was a better idea to load up on sleep while I could. Since I had only visited 9 stores on Saturday and 9 on Sunday, my body was not as caffeinated, and I could probably sleep more than 8 hours.

July 12, 2008

Again, I tried to sleep as long as I could, but I had to give up at 6:04. My mind was racing with dreams, and also with the plotting of routes. With the knowledge that I could wait until after Nationals to clear out Florida, that gave me more time to choose an optimal route there and pick up some other stores so I would not have to double back later.

Though I still did not want to dawdle, I felt a sense of relaxation on Saturday that had eluded me since the July 1st announcement of the implosion. Actually it was more a sense of relief in the knowning that I would not miss out on any of the stores slated to close in July.

Grrr... just seconds before I snapped this photo, Elsie here was standing right smack dab in the middle of my lane. Had I hit her, my little Honda Fit would not have survived.

The sign just reads "Cafe", but this place actually has a name, the Council River Cafe (I think). The young waitresss, from Trinidad, was attractive, but the hot dog was lame.

July 11, 2008

Could not sleep past 6:00. If I counted my nap before Hancock, then I was close to 8 hours, but I wasn't sure if I had actually fallen asleep. I felt fine to drive, but with two more weeks of blitzing, I could not afford to build up a sleep deficit and risk falling ill.

Wow. Life is sucking hard. Not only do I have to deal with closing stores, but I discovered that I had mislabeled a bunch of Washington photos from last year, and on top of that, I lost my photo of Aberdeen!!! It couldn't have been a store close in towards Seattle--it had to be more than an hour away. Well, there was nothing I could do. I could not afford to spend the time to go out there, so if the store ended up closing, I'd just have to live without a photo. Fortunately I later learned that it would be staying open, so I'd have another crack at a photo in the future.

Figuring out which Washington stores to skip.

It was a tedious and nearly two-hour drive from Port Angeles back down thru Tacoma and to Kent. I usually try to avoid drives that involve doubling back great distances, so had it not been for my incredible hurry, I would have waited for the ferry. Not sure if it was hunger or perhaps fatigue, but when I neared Kent I started feeling weird. Acutally, it might be withdrawal given that I had not consumed as much coffee in the first half of the day as I had the previous day around Portland.

For the first time in memory, I did not feel the same glow upon entering Seattle that I did during previous trips. The reason, I presume, was my preoccupation, bordering on panic, with the closures. Because of my hurry, I had to skip my usual places like Thompson's POV, Mae's Phinney Ridge Cafe, a classic flick at some local theater.

Struck out with the Olympic Pizza & Spaghetti House II, just down from the new Wallingford store. Tasteless meatballs and sauce.

Hauling ass to two Everett and one Marysville store that surprisingly closed at 9:00 PM which I would not have expected on a Friday night.

Finally received a genuinely solid and excellent piece of news, probably the best news I'd heard since learning that A) Jamie Lynn Spears was giving up her baby; and B) Asteroid B-Q-242 would not be hitting the earth. After days of reporting that they would not be releasing a list, Starbucks reversed course and published a list, days earlier than expected, of store closures for July.

July 10, 2008


Ooh, chilly. A sharp contrast to 100-degree heat down in Californa. In fact I had to use two blankets to continue sleeping in the wee hours.

Grrr... another stupid barista who claims "I'm not at liberty to say", leaving me frustrated in trying to decide whether I can save a few hours by skipping Oak Harbor until later.

Oh man oh man oh man! 10 stores in less than fours hours and my head was starting to spin. But I still had some 15 more to go in the Portland area. I might not survive the day, I thought.

On top of the jitteriness and beginnings of a headache, I was also suffering in a different way. Three trips to the toilet in less than four hours, and my ass was being rubbed raw by toilet paper. Try it. You won't like it.

No, no, no!!! Five poopy in five hours. IT HURTS SO MUCH!!!

OMG, I'm still on the toilet--it's been, like some 15 minutes!!! I'm getting dizzy just from being on the toilet!!!

Since Woodland, WA, just opened in May, I was planning to defer it to save time, but I had to change plans because of another consideration--the level of caffeine in my system and my ability to metabolize it. If I drank too much too quickly and got sick, I would end up losing more time than the 45-60 minute detour to Woodland, so it made sense to make the drive up there and give my body a break.

Switched to iced coffee so I wouldn't have to consume as much sugar. I can handle iced coffee without sugar, but not hot coffee.

random muscle twitching, eye dryness, but no headache or bloated like in movie

Is there such a thing as a "red-crested booby"?

Seventh toilet.

After Longview, I went over to the movie theater in Kelso, tried to take a nap, then saw Hancock. Wasn't sure if the film would last until August in theaters.

July 9, 2008

5:45, rush over to Fulton & Cottage. Waffle Square next door, convenient, but expensive. $5.33 for a waffle--jeepers!!!

My need for speed meant suboptimal photos. Sometimes waiting just a few minutes allowed me to shoot without cars in the way, but I couldn't risk sparing that time.

Early morning frustration as I called Food Junction for a refund and was disappointed that I had to deal with that same lady from last night instead of someone who speaks English well.

Dang it, dang it, dang it! I... must... stop... chatting with the baristas. I must maintain speed, speed, speed. Just get in and out. No chatting!!!

Another challenge, balancing how much time I could wait for the supervisor/manager before I needed to just buy the coffee. At least I could try for a refill with the coffee benefit and maybe get it free anyway.

AARRGHH!!! FUCKING BITCH!!! WHY AM I PLAGUED BY RETARDED BITCHES WHO HAVE NO BUSINESS IN FOOD SERVICE??? I specifically asked her if the burrito chicken had any vegetables or sauces mixed in, and she said no. So I order the burrito while 10 miles away from Red Bluff. When I reached Los Mariachis... no burrito! She had been wrong, the chicken was pre-prepared with stupid crap, and so they had not made my order. AARRGHH!!!

Finally, a solid piece of news about the Starbucks closings, a map put together by the Seattle Times. Much of the information was speculative, but at least it gave me something to go on. I was able to confirm that Altus and Lawton in OK would close, which meant I definitely had to route thru there on the way to FL.

Aw, nuts, that map also listed Malvern, AR, and when I called the barista didn't know when. That's going to be seriously out of my way!

Reached Albany before they closed at 9:00, but I had to camp at the Wal-Mart in Salem and wait for that new store to open in the morning.

Slept right away, but at 12:30 I awoke and had trouble sleeping for the next few hours.

July 8, 2008

After winning $300 in the Late Bird, I dropped Rebecca off at the airport, I headed out at 1:03 PM. My mission seemed Herculean. Get as close as I could to 30 stores a day in an effort to reach and clear Florida before any new stores closed. An so began The Implosion Blitz.

Got fucked right away. I-80 was backed up in Truckee so from Tahoe City I went south to US-50 since I had to visit a store down that way, in Cameron Park. But I lost 15-30 minutes when the highway was reduced to one lane. Grrr...

Slow going along Highway 49 to Jackson was expected, but I was further delayed by my confusion as to whether the Starbucks I spotted first was the one I wanted. The confusion would have been easily resolved with a phone call, but my phone decided to lose reception right there, so I had to waste time actually doubling back and going into the shopping center.

Hungry, hungry, hungry, and the decisions began--did I need to save time by sticking to fast food and risking the Super-Size Me effect, or could I spare time for better food without risking Starbucks closing. On top of this, there was the sugar issue. Upon hearing that I hoped to visit close to 30 stores a day, Rebecca pointed out that it wouldn't just be the caffeine affecting me, but the sugar as well. I decided to try and cut back by adding about half the packet of sugar.

A new development, news from a barista that no stores that had not yet been open a year would close. If true, that would greatly improve my chances of not losing any stores in Florida, as only two stores had opened prior to July '07.


By the time I reached the next store it was getting dangerously close to 9:00 PM, so I had to go for Panda Express. Just a side of fried rice, though. At $3.07, a good value, and along with my fries from the evil Food Junction, I had a meal.

Had to knock off earlier than expection because Expo & Exposition had closed at 9:00. So on that account, its best I did not have that much coffee that day so I could actually sleep. I'd have an extra day to get used to massive amounts.

July 7, 2008

7th & Keystone, then more Scrabble.

July 6, 2008

Longley & McCarran, then more Scrabble.

Still getting complete inconsistency. Some baristas said they'll be staying open, some baristas they can't discuss it, and some don't even know what I'm talking about.

July 5, 2008

With just five new stores in Reno and five days of Scrabble, I figured to pick off one a day. Since I needed more than just a sample to get me thru the day, I did not explain who I was that morning, but the manager/supervisor recognized me anyway and asked how many stores I was up to so far. I expressed surprise that she had recognized me, and she replied that most people know me. I said that wasn't true, that a relatively small percentage of baristas had heard of me, and being recognized on sight was rare.

I learned that several stores in the Las Vegas market would be closing by the end of July, and that set me into a panic. On the way to Scrabble I started doing what I had been loathe to, calling stores to see if they were closing. The barista at the second store I called gave me static, saying curtly that she could "not comment on that." AARRGHH!!! That's just what I needed--on top of having to deal with these store closures on short notice, if I had to hear "I can't comment" hundreds of times, I was going to go insane.

Later I realized I had jumped the gun anyway. It made no sense to call Las Vegas stores, because it made no sense to detour to Las Vegas anyway. I had to assume California stores would also close, so my best plan was to clear California, then Vegas, then Phoenix.

Made more calls during lunch, and the process was an amazing pain in the ass. I was really hating Starbucks for all their stupid secrecy. From the perspective of what is good for society, they are really committing a harmful act by not publishing the list of store closures, because keeping it a secret forces other people who might need to know to waste precious time and resources trying to find the information. I'm wasting my time, and I'm wasting baristas time having to make these fucking calls.

July 4, 2008

Up at 4:56, driving at 5:00, rushing to Reno. Getting up so early gave me time to stop in Fallon and Fernley, thus saving me from backtracking.

Scrabble for the next five days.

July 3, 2008

I was surprised that, despite all the coffee, I slept straight thru 3:00 AM. Must have been the fake benadryl I wisely took to help me sleep quicker. Felt a bit of a headache, probably a combination of dehydration due to transpiration in the dryer Denver air and also withdrawal because I had started saving the samples and buying DoubleShots around 7:00 so I could sleep. Despite fake Excedrin, headache intensified each time I awoke to drink water. At 5:00 I took more fake Excedrin and also drank some coffee, but I could not fall asleep again. 5:20, gave up and decided to get a move on.

Dammit dammit dammit, wrong turns, losing time, time is critical!!!

AARRGHH!!! Stupid Wal-Mart in Erie, no good orange juice, wasted 5 precious minutes!

Thursday morning's speed-inducing magic word: "GLORK".

The Breakfast Club, freally good biscuits!

Rush to Reno

The spirit of bad timing reared its ugly head not long after I left Cheyenne. The previous day, all around Denver, I had probably passed a bazillion Best Buy locations, so of course my power inverter did not break then. Noooo, it had to go and break at the start of a 500-mile drive to Salt Lake City. That meant some six hours without being able to study words or process my photos. That also meant lost time, like in Green River because I did not have my map up and went the wrong way for gas. Speaking of Green River, it sucks. Instead of hopping off and back onto the interstate, I had to drive a few minutes into town to find gas and look for food among the sparse offerings. The most appealing of those offerings, a Mexican restaurant serving flautas, did not pan out because the waitress seemed to more or less ignore me. I figured with that kind of service it would be a long time to get my food, so I had to settle for a fast-food looking burger joint called Arctic Circle. I ordered the hot dog, because fast-food dogs are less nasty than fast-food burgers. 6:20

July 2, 2008

5:39, too early, sipped some coffee so I wouldn't sleep to long. Then at 6:07 the phone rang. I thought it might be Rebecca calling to explain why (if) she had hung up on me the night before, but it was actually that Jonathon Brandmeier show from Chicago that called about every 3-6 months. As I had guessed, the big Starbucks news prompted the call.

Holy shit! A bear!!! A bear!!! I saw the first bear I had ever seen in real life, crossing the interstate just a few miles north of the Colorado border. It was brown, and it came within seconds of crossing my path.

Oh, the difficulty in getting accurate info begins! A barista in Grand Junction says most of the stores to close will be licensed, which is completely different from what the news reports stated.

Holey moley!!! If I actually get through all the new Colorado stores, I'll have hit 27!!! And that's not counting a couple of new Cheyenne stores, which would make 29!!!

Wow, already buzzing after only four stores (plus the three leftover samples from NM)--it was looking to be a rough day indeed.

Mustard's Last Stand

A philosophical question: if a barista remembers my visit (at another store) from many years ago, but thinks it was someone else, does that count towards my recognition ratio?

I wasn't going to make all 27 stores, that was clear, but I hoped to at least clear the Denver area. Unfortunately the Coalton store closed at 9:00. I considered skipping it and asked if they would be one of the ones closing, and the barista said they wouldn't. I wasn't sure, though. I didn't wanted to risk it. Since I needed to sleep 7-8 hours anyway in order to make the long boring drive to Reno, I decided to just wait 'til 5:00 or 6:00 AM and get somes leep.

July 1, 2008

As expected, I wasn't able to fall asleep quickly, and as such I did not get up 'til 7:00. My schedule to Reno was getting tighter and tighter.

Jeez, Louise! Between Norman, OKC, and Edmond, I went to seven different Starbucks, and I did not pass either a Yuck-fil-a, a bagel shop, or a breakfast place that looked appealing. I finally had to settle for the Waffle House before getting onto the freeway.

@#!$%^ Taco Villa--why don't you have rice??? What kind of Mexican-themed restaurant, even a crappy fast-food one, doesn't have rice??? I don't have time for this, to be searching around for food!!!

On top of that, one of the baristas decided to roll up to the I-40 & Grand store with her new car, prompting the other baristas to go outside and admire it, thus making me wait to take my photo. I didn't want to say anything so I wouldn't have to answer questions--needed to get to Santa Fe/Albuquerque as fast as possible. Grrr...

What the heck??? Only 29.5 MPG from OKC to Amarillo??? That makes no sense???

Sweet. The Planters Nutmobile.

AARRGHH!!! This could hurt me!!! I won't hit Florida until the end of July, and I won't hit some of California until the third week of July!!!

Starbucks closing 600 stores in the US

My mind started racing as soon as I read the article. Though few of the stores I had not visited had opened before June '07, some of those might be on the closure list. I was going to lose sleep over this. My best option would have been to skip Scrabble in Reno altogether, but Rebecca would be upset over that decision. I finally settled on a compromise--I would skip the Thursday early bird so I could head to Denver. What sucked about that, though, was that if I had known four hours earlier, I could have driven to Albuquerque before Santa Fe. The way I did it, I was going to double-back 50 miles to get to Denver. Grrr...

I was also going to have to alter my post-Reno plans, to skip Vancouver on the assumption that only U.S. stores, not Canadian stores, would be closing.

Sweet--a rainbow ending in the mountains.

After my mandatory stop at the Frontier Restaurant (yum, yum), I sped off towards Denver, but I did not make it far. I started to get dizzy just barely out of Albuquerque and had to stop driving much sooner than I had wanted, at the rest area south of Santa Fe.

June 30, 2008

As I was running around making sure I had everything packed, my grandmother asked when I was going to stop traveling. I replied, "never", and explained that I enjoyed traveling and wanted to keep doing it forever. I really don't know if she, at 80+ and from a different era, understands.

9:14, left Houston later than I had hoped with a heckuva drive ahead of me. At least 2000 milees to Reno by Thursday, 9:00 AM, with additional miles depending on how many Starbucks I could visit.

Sweet. I had been wondering how many extra miles per gallon I would get without all the stuff I was carrying in the car. The answer, from Houston to Fort Worth to Forney--36 MPG.

Dammit, dammit, dammit! Time lost taking a wrong exit in Houston, time lost at busy Potbelly, time lost online, time lost adding to my Wal-Mart shopping card, and by the time I hit US-75, 4:20, traffic was already heavy. After a mile or two traffic started moving, but I later lost a great amount of time on 121.

Okay, that was weird. Called the Ada store and asked "what time do you close tonight?" The female barista's response--"me???" Oookay, riiight. She thought I was asking what time she closed. Perhaps she has another completely different job and gets those calls all the time?

NOOOOOOOOO!!! MOTHERFUCKING POLICE CAR!!! He pulled onto I-35 in Ardmore, and he held up traffic for 20 miles. I expected to be free again at exit 51, towards Ada, but the motherfucker got off and headed in my direction! Asshole held me up all.... the... way... to... Ada!!!

OMG!!! Are you kidding me??? The new store in Norman closed at 9:00 PM!!! I could sleep 8 hours and visit in the morning, but A) I'm not sleepy yet; and B) I'm going to get caught in rush hour traffic in the morning.

No shortage of quiet places to park in Norman, but the place I happened to choose turned out suboptimal. The residents of the house across the street were out on the porch chatting, and I had to be careful not to shit around in an obvious manner so as not to alarm them. Around 11:30 I needed to kiwi, but I did not want

June 29, 2008

Another day without Starbucking.

June 28, 2008


Oops, I almost did it again!!! I already had a sample in my hand from the old store at Loop 1604 and Blanco when the supervisor asked if I had been to the new store across the street yet. D'oh!!!

Hmm... it had been close to ten years since I had eaten from Jim' Diner, and in that time the biscuit have certainly improved.

Aw, jeez, Austin is now so far different from Streets & Trips 2007 it's ridiculous. Four new toll roads that are not on my map makes it hard to nagivate.

June 27, 2008

Oh, my mind is truly slipping. Forgetting my toowels is perhaps understandable, but I am amazed that I left for south Texas without my backpack. Fortunately I was only a half mile away when I realized I had left the towels, and when I returned to the house I saw the backpack. What is happening to me?

OMG... that was the worst haircut ever! Houston has no shortage of salons offering haircuts at $5 or even cheaper, but during all my running around Tuesday to Thursday I kept forgetting to drop by any of the places I'd been before. When I gassed up around 9 AM, at the Speedy Food Mart just outside my neighborhood, I spotted a place advertising $3.99. Since I was getting a complete buzz, I figured I could hardly go wrong no matter the price, but I was very wrong. That haircut was the first I'd ever had that was actual painful. Seriously, there was something wrong with the clippers. I was literally in pain as every time they passed over my head.

My trip had already started later than I had hoped. I had gotten up late in part due to family drama the night before, and I added to my delays by staying on US-59 out of Victoria instead of taking US-77. Three stores in Corpus Christi traffic, even on a weekend, just took a while, and by the time I finished Harlingen and Weslaco I knew I wasn't going to clear San Antonio by nightfall.

High drama on US-281 north as when I found myself unsure whether the red pickup was just pacing me or trying to harrass me. DPS was useless, but there was a border checkpoint some 30 miles into the chase, and an agent seemed to think that the driver, with his wife and luggage, was not a threat.

A first for me, actual beans and rice (and chicken), from a gas station, the Valero in Falfurrias. That's not to say that the Laredo Taco Co. was great, but one can hardly go wrong with beans and rice.

Swwet lord, that's horrible--the "Kuntry Inn Motel".

I wasn't sweating not reaching San Antonio in time, but I was getting pretty tired of the harrassment by baristas about photography. I finally had to go off on the guy and give him a lecture about the photographer's bill of rights. It was very hard to speak as firmly as possible without actually screaming at the guy. I repeatedly emphasized that he should google "photographer's bill of rights" and then pass the word up to his manager and DM, but I had about zero confidence that word would get up to Starbucks, or that they would do the right thing. If news reports were an indication, Starbucks was less and less concerned with ethical behaviour--I didn't seen them caring much about personal freedoms.

On top of that irritation, there was this asshole at the Valero station asking me for change for gas so he could get down the block. Dumbass. If he needs to get to the end of the block, he needs to walk. And if he can't afford gas at these prices, then he needs to give up the car.

And yet more irritation, as I could not log into T-Mobile because I was never logged out from earlier that afternoon when I logged in via the AT&T network. The T-Mobile tech admitted that they are having problems with the AT&T transition.

June 26, 2008

A day without Starbucking, unless you count drinking the coffee that I had saved from Wednesday (to pace it out and reduce withdrawal).

June 25, 2008

Oops!!! I shoulda known it was too close. Had a brain freeze on the way to the Houston Premium Outlets store and accidentally went back to the original Cypress store. Good thing I asked when they had opened, by way of confirmation, and learned it was not the new store.

June 24, 2008

NOOOOOOOOO!!! More that four months since the last time I had seen a DoubleDave's, and the one I first encountered upon my return to Texas, in Conroe.... was not yet open for business! That is a cruel, cruel tease.

June 23, 2008

Around 5:37 I woke up and determined I need a bit more sleep. Conveniently I had the sample from the previous night, which I was able to use as a nap timer. With the coffee in my system, I did go back to sleep, but only for about 20 minutes. At 5:59 I woke up again, and I felt much better to drive.

Getting up early had its effects, though. Despite 2 Iowa stores and 11 new Kansas City stores, and one more in Wichita, by the time I reached the Ponca City store in OK I doubted that I was going to reach Houston by 9:00 or 10:00 in the morning, in time for the "secret op".

June 22, 2008

Early morning St. Paul reshoots, then more Scrabble. I rushed through my final game (though my opponent took his sweet time) and immediately rushed off with the goal of visiting Mankato and then two Des Moines area stores before nightfall. Didn't make it, and I decided that I might as well stay the night and get enough sleep, because I did not think I would be able to deprive myself of sleep two nights in a row in my struggle to reach Houston by Tuesday morning.

June 21, 2008

Rush to Scrabble.

Only one new store in the Minneapolis area, and there I experienced a first. Becuase I needed to save the DoubleShot for Scrabble on Sunday, I stealthed the store. I took my photo as usual, and one of the baristas came out and waved at me. But instead of belligerently declaring that photography was illegal, he just wanted to know if I was Winter from the web site, and he was very pleased to meet me. Boy, it sure is refreshing to be greeted warmly instead of shouted at hostilely.

June 20, 2008

Took a risk and shorted myself on sleep, got up at 5:59 to maximize my chances of visiting all the stores along my route to Minneapolis.


On top of that, at the gas station some old timer noticed my Texas plate and asked where I was from. But he didn't stop there. He went on to tell me a story about the airport near Midland and Odessa and how they supposedly fought over it. Then he asked me about gas prices in Texas and went off on that. Oh, I so fervently wished that he would have stroke and pass out so I could be on my way without being rude.

Oh, just what I was afraid of when I got up that early. Only 10:30, but the drive from Quad Cities to Ottawa was so long and boring that I had to fight drowsiness.

USA Cafe

Dinner with Raul and Cenide at El Llano.

Heavier traffic than expected, heavy rain in Wisconsin, and road contruction all combined to cost me more than I had expected, and my schedule to reach Minneapolis in time for Scrabble was severely threatened.

June 19, 2008

It had to happen. I had been able to avoid the $4 gas for two weeks of my road trip, but I finally experienced the bite, in Springfield, IL, $4.04. It's possible that I might have found it slightly cheaper at the Wal-Mart, but I wasn't sure if that one sells gas, and it was not worth driving a couple of miles to find out.

Weird. This can't be a corporate Burger King, can it? Not with that sign, right? But how can they use the name?

route from Charleston to Terre Haute, windy, Westfield Cafe

OH MY GOD.. how is it that people are allowed to grow up not understanding what north and south are??? This unbelievably retarded barista in Greenwood not only did not know north and south, but she had the audacity to tell me that obviously it depended on whether I was headed east or west on Main as to whether I needed to go north or south to find the store. That is an egregious degree of cluelessness. Most baristas at least admit up front they don't know directions. But not this know-it-all. I was so incensed that I did not even want to talk to her when I reached the store.

In Urbana I was asked what might well be the funniest project-related question ever, "Have you ever seen that movie Starbucking?" The barista had heard of the movie but had never seen any clips. Once I told him that was my movie he became excited. He was, like, cool, now I can tell people I've met him.

Reached Urbana early enough that I decided to be really aggressive and try to knock off a loop of stores going as far out as the Quad Cities before heading in towards Chicagoland. To improve my chances I drove later into the night than I had been doing, to a rest are about 20 miles from Peoria. I could have driven all the way, but I might have easily burned those 15 minutes driving around looking for a good place to park, or, if I chose poorly, getting hassled by police.

June 18, 2008


Heh, Lambert's Cafe in Sikeston.

You want slow on the uptake? Here's slow on the uptake. Took me some seven years after the release of Emmylou Harris' Red Dirt Girl to realize that "The Boy From Tupelo" is a reference to Elvis. Duh.

Oh, man, I cannot believe it! I was sure my streak without a speeding ticket was finally coming to an end, when I got pulled over just a mile from the interstate on some Missouri back road. But just like in Ohio, I got away with a warning. Whew!

Wow, it must be fate. I accidentally returned to the old store at I-64 and SR-N (why there are two, I can't say), and I experienced some serious deja vu. A barista who had been there when I first visited confirmed it was the old store--the new store was across the freeway. But the trip wasn't waste--I scored a mug!!! After passing up three or four mugs in Europe, I was glad to finally be able to accept one.

AARRGH!!!! WHY T-MOBILE WHY WHY WHY??? WHY ALL THE OUTAGES??? This is the 3rd in a about a week. And later, weirdness, as I no longer had to log in--I was just able to connect immediately. Weird.

Strange lady in Florissant. She pulled into the Starbucks and just stayed in the car, not talking on the phone or anything, just sitting there. Since she was in the car, and it was running, I asked her to just back it up to another space. Most people at that point would have lowered the window to hear me, but this funny-looking lady seemed frightened. Bear in mind I was clean-shaved, wearing a Starbucks t-shirt, and had an expensive camera around my neck. But... my skin is not white. I made my request loudly through the window, and before I even finished she cut me off and waved me off with her hand and went ahead and backed up the car. Mentally ill?

Curse that great glass elevator!!!

Whew! Cleared St. Louis before the surge of water and possible flooding arrived!

MOTHERFUCKER!!! STUPID SPORTS COMMENTATOR ON DAY TO DAY!!! It was a freakin' report about the Celtics' victory, nothing to do with TV, and he gave away a crucial event from season 3 of The Wire!!! AARRGHH!!!

June 17, 2008


us-31 bridge

Bamboozled!!! Streets & Trips shows Highway 6 going just north of Pontotoc, so I expected just a short detour to find food. However, in the past couple of years a new highway had been built, and when I took the exit for Pontotoc I actually had to drive some five miles into town. That would have been okay if I could have gotten some good beans and rice from Boondock's, a cajun restaurant. Except that, contrary to the large picture painted on the wall, there was no Boondock's--it had moved to Tupelo. Instead, the space was occupied by the Red Rooster Cafe, offering basic American fare that did not seem to appeal to me. I decided to just buy a piece of cornbread to tide me over until Oxford, and when I went over to the buffet line to grab a piece (for just 28 cents!), I spotted some red beans and rice with sausage. Well, that's pretty much what I wanted anyway! They weren't great, mind you, but they tided me over until dinner.

OOH OOH OOH OOH OOH!!! I-69! I-69!!! Finally saw my first sign for the new I-69, part of the NAFTA corridor. Exit 283 off I-55 in MS is for I-69 south, to Tunica, and I-69 north shares the roadway with I-55 for some miles until the signs once more read "FUTURE I-69 CORRIDOR".

Well, I've heard some strange rumours about myself, but this one takes the cake. Just as I was about to leave the new store in Cordova, a barista rushed out and asked if I was the guy who had the grant to visit all the stores. I replied that, yes, I was trying to visit all the stores, but I certainly did not have a grant (though it would be nice). She then said this rumoured person visited each store when it opened and left a business card. Turned out she was referring to the mini flyers for "Starbucking" I had been distributing the previous year. Yes, I was person she was thinking of, but where she had heard these rumours about the grant, I have no idea. How do these stories come up?

Nuts--Crescent City, where I had bought some half-way decent beignets (I think) closed sometime in the past year. I walked into this place across the street called Abbey's that offered home cooking, but the place had a definite fast-food feel. I didn't like the vibe, so I continued down Germantown, farther than I had hoped given my time pressures, and stopped into a place called Huey's. There had been (or maybe still is) a place called Huey's in Atlanta that served beignets. But there was no relation. So in the end I just settled on Jason's Deli.

June 16, 2008

Up later than I hoped, past 8:00, and not out 'til well past 9:00 after saying my goodbyes to Francisco.

Atlanta Medical Center wasn't the only point of Starbucks frustration in the ATL--I also had to deal with unpleasantness when I called the relocated Atlanta Financial Center store. When I asked if they had moved, the barista said "six months ago" with a bit of disdain in her voice. When I told her I had not gotten an answer on the phone number, there was definite contempt in her voice when she said "it's the same number." Totally oblivious was she, that as of a week earlier, at least, the Starbucks web site still listed a completely different number. Where does Starbucks get these people??? They really need to implement an anti-bitchiness detector in their hiring process.

Francisco recommended American Service Center, but they did not have tires in stock, that they would need to get them from a warehouse, stockhouse or something like that. I went back to the Tires Plus I had passed, I the agent there mentioned that ASC usually got their tires from them.

While waiting for my tire I was about to call that Aquarium store to see if they had heard from the district manager yet, but then it occurred to me to look up Atlanta Medical Center in my Streets & Trips. It was there. After some five minutes being transferred and on hold, I got a number for the Starbucks and called. The manager confirmed it was licensed. Problem solved.

Okay, let's see if I can commit this to memory--Indian River orange juice is not bad. I'd had a bottle years earlier in Florida, but I forgot whether it was good or not.

The day was moving much too quickly. Despite this, once I reached the Atlanta Financial Center store I could not resist the graviational pull of the yummy yummy biscuits just 7 miles away at the Flying Biscuit. I was in danger of getting caught in rush hour traffic though, and I still hoped to find a massage. I did find out, way up on I-75 in Marietta, but that was not far enough away from the city to beat the traffic. It was slow going out of the city, but what was worse was a piercing headache that manifested itself right after the massage ended. But it got better. While taking two fake Excedrin tablets I did something that made me choke. Not sure if I took coffee down the wrong pipe, or if I took a pill down that pipe--either way, I started choking, and I found it really hard to breath. I was getting air in, but not very much, and I was really struggling as I pulled over. I coughed but that did not help. Fortunately by taking deep breaths I got the air that I needed, but I was extremely uncomfortable. Man, if that's what drowing feels like, I don't ever want to drown. Or to be waterboarded.

Wow, a 46-cent discrepancy between the Exxon on one side of the street and the Kangaroo on the other--why would anybody by from the Exxon???

Ah, yet another example of how police are just abusive criminals with badges. For a reason that can only have had to do with my appearance, race, skin color, a pair of police decided to pull me over from among all the other cars moving the same speed. The reason they gave--following too closely. They had been shadowing me for miles as I kept my speed right at 70 MPH, in the right hand lane, behind a truck. For whatever reason the truck decided to slow down, eventually down to about 60. I had to keep an eye on the truck, a pickup to my left and, and the cop car that was sometimes in my blind spot. Because I did not match the truck's speed and then pass him fast enough, they decided I was following too close. In fact, I wasn't even behind the truck when they pulled me over. They did it after riding right along side of me and taking a good long look at what I looked like. This was very different from what most cops do, which is to get close enough to run your plate. Most cops don't pull up right along side and observe what I look like. The stop was clearly based on my appearance. As was the blatant lie they told later. I did not give permission to have my car searched because I had just had to rearrange the back after having the tire changed and did not want to do it again. But they just happened to have a dog in the car, and they claimed the dog had smelled narcotics, which was a blatantly lie. They just wanted to search my car and were going to make up any excuse to do it.

June 15, 2008

AARRGHH!!! It was like pulling teeth, trying to find out about the new store at the Atlanta Medical Center. The barista at the nearby GA Aquarium store knew nothing. I was going to ask again when I actually reached the store, but when I exited I-75/85 and saw how close I was, I decided to just drive by anyway. Yep, there was a Starbucks there. I parked across the street at the BP and ran over to see if they were open. What I saw was odd--everything seemed to be in place, and the sign said it was open on Sunday, 6-6, but there was no one there. I found my way into the building and went over to a different door to see one of those big floor dryer thingies. No sign on the door giving an opening date, though. I found a security guard who said they would open Monday the 16th, but he was not sure and had no more info. That was all I could do there, so I went over to the GA Aquarium store where the manager just happened to be in. He looked on his list and saw nothing about a new store opening. I tried to get him to call the district manager but he did not want to bother him on a Sunday. I asked him if he could call on Monday, and I moved on. I also tried to call the Little Five Points store for info, but the assistant manager said she could not hear me and hung up. I kept trying to call back over and over but never got an answer. Later that evening I called again, but the AM was already gone. I also tried to get a barista at the Briarcliff store to call this DM guy, but when I called back later that evening they had not heard from him. The whole deal was very frustrating because of the distance I'd had to drive back into the city from the suburbs and the ATL traffic. I did not want to lose that much time and waste the miles only to find out the store never opened, or that it was licensed out. Grrr... all it would take really would be for Starbucks to put some type of code on their web site indicating that stores are licensed. Or maybe I speak too soon--maybe they do have such a code and I just haven't figured it out yet?

My Flying Biscuit breakfast was totally worth the hungry, hungry wait. As usual, the only problem I had with it was the size of the biscuit. One is two small, but two is too much to eat along with the eggs, potatoes, and sausage.

What the hell??? Flat tire, out of the blue, on I-285. Horrible timing--on a Sunday, after 5:30 PM. Now there was no chance of heading towards Chattanooga that night.

The highlight of my day came at a new store in Roswell where I met two really cute college students who were about to graduate and wanted to do a lot of traveling. They really seemed curious about my project and the details of how I managed to travel so much. I would have been happy to chat with them indefinitely, but unfortunately my dinner was waiting next door at the Five Guys, and I still hoped to reach the Trickum store with some light in the sky.

Thirteen stores, the most of my trip thus far! And it would have been more had it not been for my late start in Athens, my flat tire, my time lost investigating the Medical Center store, and the Financial Center's store being closed Sunday.

AAAAHH!!! MYSTERY BUG IN MY CAR!!! Good thing that Francisco called me back and offered a place to stay for the night. Hopefully the bug would die in the next 24 hours so it would not kill me the next night.

After chatting with Francisco a while I showered up and retired to the room he had provided. I turned on the TV, saw that he had the Dish Network, and looked through the channel guide. As I expected, all the adult channels were PPV, except one... Playboy TV en Espanol. Playing was some soft core show involving a sex therapist, I think. While watching for a while, I made a rather fascinating discovery, something I had hypothesized about in the past but never proven.

June 14, 2008

Rolled into Charleston early enough to reshoot the downtown stores after visiting the new one. A young woman standing on a corner (not a hooker) recommended a restaurant on Queen Street called Poogan's Porch. Very pretty place, despite the stupid name that just begs for someone to come along and jumble in two additional letters. Overpriced breakfast, as I would have expected from just looking at the decor, but the biscuit was decent enough. Had some odd taste that I could not identify, though.

No response from Gibson.

Dang it, the Cuban Cafe in Spartanburg did not have licensed to actually cook. As such it was more like a deli, and there were no tostones.

AARRGHH!!! I wuz robbed!!! Stupid Stax Original Restaurant, where I could count on a hearty meal at a good price, doesn't serve dinner on Saturdays!!!

Rocking the DVD around my neck is still working, allowing me to move copies without effort.

June 13, 2008

Okay, I can understand Ray's Drive In in Wilson not having red beans and rice--they just serve a different kind of southern home cooking is all. But did the waitress really have to look at me like I was silly just for asking?

I was so happy when I rolled into downtown Greenville and saw the Starlight Cafe advertising organic and locally grown food. My joy turned to disappointment, however, when I looked at the menu and saw mostly sandwiches. Nothing that appealed to me. Since I was there, and hungry, and I tried the Hungarian beef stew. Mistake. I don't know what it is with Hungarian things. Don't like Hungarian stew. Had bad experiences with Hungarian strippers. Hate Hungarian notation. I sure hope Starbucks never opens in Hungary!

As I neared Myrtle Beach I got a call from a Scrabbler wanting an interview for some romance column on I pulled into a Starbucks to download while I talked, and then I went across the highway to see if some place called Geno's had reasonably-priced spaghetti. They had a sign out front advertising that spaghetti was one of the specials--great! But the price, $8.99--that's not special!!! I asked the cashier about this, whether I could get a smaller portion without the salad. He had to defer to the cook, who did not seem to care about whether I ordered or not. His quote--"$8.99 was a steal." Yeah, stealing from me, buddy.

I've paid 9 bucks or more for spaghetti before--it was really the cook's attitude that drove me across the parking lot to Firehouse Subs. Plus, I hadn't had a Firehouse Sub in a while. Unfortunately, in that long while, things had changed. The price of the sandwich and chili came to just under what the spaghetti would have cost. Wouldn't have been so bad if the chili had been as good as remembered, but what they gave me was swill--extremely bland, which chili should most definitely not be.

June 12, 2008


Starbucks to open 150 European locations

I won't actually have to visit these locations, since they are licensed, but I still have to identify which ones they are!!! Grrr...

WHOA!!! That was a snake coiled up on the road!

Looked up screenings of The Incredible Hulk, and it appeared, as I had suspected, that I would be able to travel no farther than the Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill area if I wanted to see a midnight screening. That gave me some time to kill, so I went ahead and downloading the latest from Alanis Morissette (pretty good on a first listen) and Emmylou Harris (merely okay). I also had time to find some good grub, a decent omelette and biscuit from the Red Rooster Cafe. And for only $3.49--a far cry from the Pancake Pantry's prices.

After a weak weak on antibiotics I finally felt well enough to enjoy a lap dance, if I could find one. It was early, and I did not necessarily expect to find a club open in Lexington. But whaddayaknow, Spearmint Rhino opened at 11:00, and that just happened to be the club I'd gotten tossed out the previous year. That gave me the irresistible opportunity to tempt fate and go back to see if the same bouncer was still there, and if so, if I could remain unnoticed.

First thing I did was walk up to the bar, and I used the mirror behind the bar to keep an eye on the bouncers. After a while I did not see a bouncer that looked familiar, so I moved out to the floor, but I kept my head down and looked away every time any bouncer passed by. Truth be told, it wasn't much of a cat and mouse game. I wasn't sure if I was relieved or disapppointed. But, as it turned out, there was still an opportunity to flirt with danger. Sometime in the past year, the club had changed prices, and couch dances were now a whopping $40! However, table dances were offered out on the floor, for $10. They were supposed to be no-contact, but the dancer on stage when I arrived happened to be more concerned with customer satisfaction than sticking to the rules, at least so early in the day when the bouncer did not seem to be enforcing the rules. It might have helped that I buttered her up by tipping her onstage with a $2 bill instead of a $1. I knew those $2 bills would come in handing when I bought them at the bank!

Aided by a DoubleShot from the Princeton store and an exciting story and effects, I had no problem staying up for The Incredible Hulk, and that pretty much took care of my jet lag. Staying up that late did pose a problem, though, because with the heat I knew I wouldn't be able to sleep too late into the morning. I also didn't want to sleep past 7:00 or 8:00 in a residential neighborhood in case nosy residents took notice, so I took the risk of staying in the parking lot. The development, Brier Creek, was huge, with several anchor stores besides the

June 11, 2008

Interesting. I almost left Nashville without visiting the Pancake Pantry. During every previous visit to the city I had started thinking upon approach whether I would be able to include it in my route. But this time I completely forgot about the restaurant as I drove down from Bowling Green, and if I had not decided to stop in the city to find a campground instead of heading out closer to Spring Hill, I would have missed my chance. What is happening to this aging mind of mine?

Geez, I understand the Pancake Pantry is a popular place and all, but $14.04 for bacon, eggs, pancakes, and juice??? That's, like, getting close to the price of a lap dance! (Yes, everything is measured in lap dances.) But, since I'd only managed one lap dance in more than three months, I could afford an overprice breakfast. Plus, those were some damn good pancakes. I mean, seriously mouth-watering. Perfect buttermilk taste, perfect texture.

AARRGHH!!! STUPID CRAIGSLIST!!! I'm trying to sell my wayward iPod and unnecessary camera by posting to Craigs List in whatever city I'm heading to next, but CL won't let me post the same ad in multiple cities. And even if I delete the ad from Louisville, it won't let me post to Knoxville. I was so frustrated that I had to take the fee hit and post to eBay. Grrr...


GLEEK!!! GLEEK!!! GLEEK!!! GLEEK!!! GLEEK!!! GLEEK!!! GLEEK!!! Hulk! The Incredible Hulk comes out on Friday, which means I need to plan to be at a suitable theater on Thursday night!!!

Was hoping to make it to Danville before the sun set, but I only made it as far as Somerset. I could have made it if I had not spent nearly an hour back in Murfreesboro online and then looking for food, but I gotta have a life too. Rushing rushing rushing all the time takes the fun out of starbucking.

But what was worse was that I lost track of time and missed the 9 PM deadline when most local restaurants close. As a result, I had to settle for KFC. Icky icky icky!

June 10, 2008

WTF??? In the course of about 5 hours I have passed up my exit three times and cost myself more than an hour. Why am I being so stupid?

More time wasted, thanks to Heitzmans Traditional Bakery & Deli in Louisville. They remade my sandwich, sure, after putting mustard on it despite my clear instructions, but they of course did not compensate me for my fucking time!!!

Wow, did I just get screwed. Fake-lost my iPod and paid $400 for a replacement one day, one day before I heard about Apple's new lower-priced iPhones!!! Now there is no way I can sell my old one for $300. I'll be lucky to get $200!!! Why does this happen to me???

Finally managed to get a really good massage after more than a month, month and a half. Had I walked in to the All About You spa and decided against the massage because the owner/therapist was a bit too heavyset for my tastes, I would have missed out. But I scheduled over the phone, and I always keep my appointments unless the therapists looks obviously like a male-to-female conversion, which I consider to be false advertising.

Could it be that I am too picky? I definitely don't like restaurant waitstaff who are unfriendly and fail to smile and chit-chat. On the other hand, I am creeped one when a restaurant employee is overly friendly, like the manager/host/waiter at Puerto Vallarta, across the street from the new Bowling Green store, who kept referring to me as "primo" and made too much chit-chat. Isn't there a happy medium?

I definitely wasn't being picky about the food though--it was crap. I specifically went through the menu listing for the burrito and asked the waiter to hold the tomato, lettuce, and mushrooms. Despite this, the order came back with peppers and onions, not listed on the menu. Anybody with half a brain could have inferred that if I was holding everything but the fucking meat, that I would not want those pollutants either. Besides this, the nacho cheese they had melted over the burrito was nasty looking.

Grrr... stupid rest area just inside the TN border has 2-hr limit. I'm seeing more and more of these limits as time passes, and I fear the time will come when I can no longer camp out at rest areas.

June 9, 2008

Headed to the neighborhood of Pittsburgh known as The Strip to meet some of Rebecca's friends for breakfast. They were running late, and I was experiencing withdrawal, so I decided to give some local coffee a try. Not bad.

Rebecca's friend Lea made a wise choice of restaurant for breakfast, a place called Deluca's. Decent biscuits. Farm fresh eggs that were mighty tasty. Juice very much did not suck.

As for Rebecca's friends themselves, they seemed intelligent and interesting. I found this a refreshing change from some past girlfriends who had subjected me to their wholly unintelligent and vapid friends.

This is what became of the Starbucks that used to be at 1719 Penn Avenue. If Starbucks ever stops building new stores, maybe I can fill my time keeping a history of what comes after Starbucks.

After a weekend of debate, once I dropped Rebecca off at Greyhound it was time to make a decision--I had to drive somewhere. I finally settled on the two Cleveland area stores, and from there I'd decide where to go next. The way the new stores were spread out on my map combined with my Scrabble and other commitments created a logistical challenge.

I had been fixated on finding an Apple Store since discovering my loss, but when I arrived at the Cuyahoga Falls store and saw a Best Buy I realized they sell iPods too. The price of $399 for the 16 GB iPod Touch seemed the same as what I had paid at the Apple Store, so I went ahead and bit the bullet. Even if the price had dropped slightly at the Apple Store in the past 6 months, I was willing to spend the extra money to get my iPod back immediately, and to avoid the hassle of going inside a mall, where Apple Stores usually are. Still, $400, wow, that's a lot of money to drop in an instant. It was probably about 30 minutes between the time I was cleaning the old iPod and when we returned to the house. What could have happened in that time? Unless the iPod fell from my dashboard and is lodged somewhere in the car, the only ideas I have is that I left my doors unlocked and somebody grabbed it from the dash, or that it fell next to the door frame and tumbled out of the car when Rebecca opened her door.

Stepped out of the Borders feeling hungry, and my eyes fell upon the Yuck-fil-a across the street. NOOOOOO!!! I could feel the pull of the Yuck drawing me in. I was helpless to resist the Yuck.

OMG... THIS IS SATANIC!!! Within three hours of buying my new iPod Touch, I found my old one in my drivers side door pouch where I had looked about four different times!!! AARRGHH!!! Anybody want an iPod Touch for $300?

Whoa, that was a little weird. I had gotten so used to finding restaurants open well past 9 PM in Europe and the Middle East that I just assumed that Potbelly would be open at 9:15 and was surprised to find them closing. They still had some chil though, so my trip was not wasted.

After four nights in rooms and much-improved symptoms, I felt fine enough to try the rest area between Columbus and Cincinnati. Slept just fine.

June 8, 2008

Wanted to ensure I got Rebecca to the tournament on time, so I was in a hurry as a rephotographed the Squirrel Hill store. It was only a little past 8:00 AM, so I did not have to wait for many cars and passersby, but to my chagrin I did have to waste time dealing with another misinformed and belligerent barista who came outside protesting my photography. I was still weak, my armpits still hurt, I was hungry, and caffeine withdrawal had already set in, so this was the last thing I wanted to deal with. The best I could come up with to avoid prolonging a discussion was "don't worry about it." I thought this had worked when she went back in side, and I finished shooting from that angle, but when I moved across the intersection (even farther from the store) she came back outside again and glared at me. She kept me in her sights as I selected a third angle and just glared at me, first from outside the store, and then from inside the store. Meanwhile, Rebecca had gotten her pastry, water, and my coffee, and was standing in front of the store waiting for me to finish. The barista told her to tell me that what I was doing was "copyright violation and illegal." Rebecca had enough sense to just walk away.

DAVID SEDARIS IS NOT BLACK??? Yes, I know that sounds like an absurd realization, especially considering that I've seen his sister, Amy Sedaris. I saw her in Strangers With Candy, the film, years ago, and I have known full well that she is his sisters for years, and yet I never managed to break the mental image that I had of David Sedaris as a black man with big dreadlocks. So now I'm looking at him on The Daily Show, and he just looks weird. Counting Crows--that's kind of what I thought David Sedaris looked like, the lead singer of Counting Crows, except much more effeminate. No goatee. Just the dreds.

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian

While cleaning mushed banana off the items that had been in my backpack, my iPod mysteriously disappeared.


June 7, 2008

My armpits had not seemed to hurt any worse during the night, and my headache was pretty much gone, so I decided that I was indeed recovering. I decided I would go ahead and travel to Pittsburgh after all to visit Rebecca instead of heading along what was a more natural starbucking route. This was part of what came with being in a relationship, having to compromise my plans. I would not, of course, abandon starbucking--I made that clear in the movie. But a certain measure of compromise would be required to keep Rebecca from becoming dissatisfied.

Since my route to Pittsburgh took me through the DC area, I figured I might as well show up at the Annapolis tournament and see if anybody had dropped out. When 9:00 rolled around it looked like I might be able to play when KC had not yet shown up, but she drove up five minutes later. I figured she would, since she lived in the area. No Scrabble for me.

Stopped for gas and food in Breezewood. One of the few non-corporate establishments on the main drag is the Family House Restaurant, and I figured I could get some chili there. Still had a craving for chili--no idea why. On the way to the restroom I spotted macaroni & cheese in the buffet table, and I was beset with a sudden craving for that too. Oh, my, was it awful. I don't eat much macaroni & cheese, mind you, perhaps not even once a year, but that bland goopy mess had to be the worst mac & cheese I had ever tasted.

Waited for Rebecca to finish and then took Brendan along to a deli for dinner. Can you guess what I ordered? Yep, once more, chili. With sweet potato fries, this time. A whole heaping mess of 'em. From looking at how much fries had been doled out between Brendan and myself, you'd have no idea there was a crisis in world food prices. Many a starving thirld-world refugee could have been fed with our fries alone.

Still feeling jet lag, I decided to drop out of the speed tournament and go nap in my car. When Rebecca called we went back to Pittsburgh to stay at her friend Lea's. As I had expected, Rebecca was anxious to share my bed, but I was firm in insisting that this was a bad idea. I did not know the extent to which what I had might be contagious, and I couldn't bear the thought of her having to suffer through what I had gone through.

June 6, 2008

Since I had paid for a room I wanted to sleep as much as possible, but jet lag got me out of bed around 5:13. Once I checked out, I realized I faced a dilemma regarding logging the expense. Should the code be "siren" because I was out Starbucking, or should the code be "medical" since the only reason I got the room was my illness.

I was able to eat more of the leftover Colombian food that morning, but I still had to toss more than half the meal. With my immune system busy fighting my infection, I did not want to risk picking up more bacteria by letting the food sit out any longer.

9:18, finally an erection, which I hadn't had since Monday. I hoped that was a sign the infections were being fought off, whether by my immune system or the antibiotics.

As I drove down towards the new Virginia Beach store and later to Kitty Hawk, I could not help but contemplate the difference between Starbucking overseas and Starbucking in the U.S. It's almost a completely different process, driving around with a map and the ability to call a store for directions versus figuring out public transportation schedules, walking, and having to rely on asking people where the Starbucks are.

On the way to the Williamsburg store I experienced a period of panic when I discovered that a slew of photos from the previous November would not open. My personal image viewer would not open them, nor would Windows Explorer's app--in both cases my laptop would crash. This meant I could not even identify which photos were bad. I had to wait until I got to the Starbucks to set up my backup computer and my backup hard drive to see if those copies of the photos were good. Whew! They were. Still, it was troubling that those files had become corrupted. Was it the hard drive on my primary laptop? Not good. During my investigation I discovered I had even lost one of my Europe photos. Thankfully it was of a store I had shot from several angles, but still, I lost the best photo.

For the good news, I finally got some decent bowel movements going. I even went three times that day, and in combination I moved a decent amount of product. I couldn't move that much, however, because my appetite was still not normal. I ate very little all day long.

Vanilla DoubleShot.

Decided another night in a motel might do me good. Found a decent rate at a Motel 6 in Ashland, VA. Once again the characters hanging out at the cheap motel looked sketchy, and I crossed my fingers that I would find my car undisturbed the next morning.

June 5, 2008

Had to wait until 11:30, but I got to see a doctor at a clinic in Ashburn (actually Leesburg). He did not think I had typhoid, but he said I probably had a sinus infection, a secondary infection, and yet a third unknown infection that would account for the armpit bumps. He prescribed two separate antibiotics and said to check back in a week. He did not seem thrilled to learn that I was not planning to stay--I could not burn 30 days, as he would have preferred, just sitting in NoVA twiddling my thumbs.

I guess driving is like riding a bicycle--you never forget. After 30 days without driving, the longest I'd ever gone, I got back on the highways with no problems. Well... perhaps I did weave across lanes a little more than usual. Part of the problem might have been my headache and occasional nausea, or it might also have been trying to use the phone, computer, and iPod at the same time.

Ugh. Appetite not good. Was really looking forward to some Colombian food, but after about five bites I no longer felt hungry. A few hours later I reheated the food at a gas station and tried again, but I only about 5-10 bites in.

As I headed out towards Easton and the time approached 3 PM, my general fatigue + lack of good sleep was making itself felt. I really wanted to pull over and get a motel, but logistically that did not make sense. It would be better to visit Easton, then Rehoboth, and then I could sleep 'til morning if necessary.

The supervisor back in Dulles had seemed friendly, as had the one later that evening in Rehoboth. But I had no such luck in Easton, as the supervisor turned out unsmiling and looked at me with unwelcoming eyes. I felt completely drained of energy, and I did not want to have to deal with suspicion or derision or a long explanation of why I was Starbucking, so I chose to just pay for the coffee. With more than 700 new stores in North America though, $1.59 a pop would really add up. I needed to catch a break and get supervisors who looked like they would be friendly, baristas who did not look at me wide-eyed like I was some kind of alien before I had even said a word.

I pushed on to Rehoboth and then set off towards the Chesapeake Bay wondering how far I would be able to drive. I remembered that during my trip with Bill I had had trouble finding a place to park once on US-13 in Virginia, so I decided to just stay at the Wal-Mart Supercenter in Salisbury. I called my parents to update my mother on my condition and see how my father was doing, and they managed to convince me to finally get a motel room. It wasn't the money, I protested--I just didn't think I needed one since I could sleep fine in the car. But this time I think they were right, because when I got to my room at the America's Best Value Inn across the highway, I found that my armpit bumps had grown much larger. They had been itching and hurting something awful all day, and I could see why. I really hoped the antibiotics would kick in soon, and I hoped that 10+ hours of sleep would also help.

The doctor had suggested avoiding a laxative and instead waiting a bit longer and perhaps trying mango juice. I picked up a mango/guava/tangerine combo at the Wal-Mart. I'm not sure if it was the cause, because it seemed to quick, but 30 minutes later I managed to get a very small movement going. And the next morning I got a little bit more going. Not what I would have expected after three days, but at that point I was willing to take anything.

June 4, 2008

Holy crap but Starbucks charges a lot for their brewed coffee! 3.25 TYL is about $2.70 for a short! I did not ask for a sample because I was feeling absolutely horrible and did not have the energy to try to make myself understood if the supervisor's English was at the same level as that of the other baristas I had met.

So as not to waste a short cup, I asked for the coffee in the sample cup I had. He looked puzzled, and he explained that the price was the same whether it was the 4-oz cup or the 8-oz cup. And he also seemed to give me a disapproving look. Not sure where that came from, since I had money sitting on the counter. I had not even asked for a sample.

I had set my juice and pastry on an outside table before going in, and then I worried it might be cleaned up, so I set it in a corner next to the door of some business that appeared closed. A few minutes later I saw a guard for that business, a bank maybe, talking with the barista, and I had to go intervene and put my food back on the table. Another glare from the supervisor.

Didn't have time to mail it, but I still managed to pick up a final bear for Alex. Since I was going back home, I would only have to carry it until I reached my car, and then I could mail it at my leisure.

More dour looks from a barista at the airport. Overall, Turkey was turning into my most unpleasant Starbucks visits.

Okay, this is why the TSA is the most moronic agency on the face of the planet. Presumably following TSA guidelines, at the final security check (of three), a bag check, the Turkish agent took my toothpaste tube, put it in a clear ziplock bag, and put it back in my backpack. That is just stupid. I could tell from the look he gave me that the Turkish agent did not care for this regulation--he was just following orders. But so were the rank and file Nazis, and imagine. That's how it starts.

The flight back, around 10 hours, was probably my worst flight ever. It was full, and the flight attendant said flights from Istanbul to New York were full every day. Since I booked the night before around 11:00, Delta had to have overbooked te flight, so I was lucky to be there. Still, being cramped for the duration with a really bad headache was pretty bad. I took fake Nyquill gelcaps, but sleeping was hard.

Even worse and more stupid TSA annoyance at JFK. I had already cleared immigration, but I had to clear security too before going to my gate for the Dullest flight. A low-level agent had never seen a one-name passport before, so he called his supervisor. That agent was also confused, and he rudely asked for another form of idea. Good job, TSA. With these morons who can't recognize a good passport at the gates, the real terrorrists will have no problem getting through.

I should have felt relieved to be back in the US, but the illness dampened that sense of relief. I managed to get online and find two messages from Michelle about possibilities for seeing a doctor in the morning. That was my first priority.

When I had seen that my return flight would be thru JFK, I had groaned because JFK is one of the worst, if not the very worst, airport in the country. I'd heard so many horror stories, and I hoped that I would not face one myself. I wasn't too worried when the 7:35 flight appeared to be delayed--I expected that. We boarded around 8:00, and I could deal with that short delay. But then a series of problems related to weather and fuel caused us to sit on the play for three hours before taking off. AARRGGH!!! That was my first such experience, and hopefully my last. Good thing I borrowed another passenger's phone to call my parents and have them in turn call Yanny and ask her to leave the key out for me. We didn't arrive until midnight!!!

Even upon arrival I still had to wait. I assume it was because of the late hour that we were not able to taxi to the gate. Instead we had to take a shuttle. As I waited for everybody to board, I felt dehydrated, and I was starting to worry about my lack of a bowel movement in what might have been 48 hours. At least one thing worked out--the line for taxis was orderly and moved quickly. I was soon back at my car, found the key, and promptly passed out.

June 3, 2008

View from the window of my hostel room.

Got up early, 7:15, hoping to have enough time to visit Tamleek and Le Meridian Hotel. My first concern, however, was of an altogether different nature. No, not the fact that the water in the shower never warmed--I expected that I would run into cold (not that cold, really) water at some point during my trip. No, it was the fact that as I soaped up my right armpit I felt a sharp pain, and then one or two bumps. I immediately thought back to when I was young and started reading Cien Agnos De Soledad in Spanish. There was a passage that described some type of ailment that inflicted a character's armpits. I did not know the word, so I asked my father. What he described seemed very painful, and since that day I have had an unnatural fear of developing these painful bumps or whatever in my armpits. I could not see clearly in the bathroom mirror, and in the room mirror I distinctly saw the bump, and a bit of read skin, but nothing stood out. Maybe it was like a pimple, or maybe not. I couldn't imagine having been bitten in my armpit--how could that happen?

Can't find Tamleek. This was particularly frustrating because as I walked down Al Sharif Nasser Bin Jameel, I could see street addresses on the buildings. If Al Shaya and/or Starbucks had just put the freaking address of the store on the web site, I would have at least known if I was walking in the right direction!!! FUCK!!! Wasted 3 dinar on a taxi for nothing, and because of the delay, and because of bad information, I was forced to pay 20 dinar to get to the airport. I had been told I could get the Airport Express bus at Le Meridian Hotel, but it was not there!!!

My morning, and much of the previous evening, was not fun. I was reminded of a chat with a barista from a couple of weeks earlier. I said I was not on vacation. He asked if I was having fun, and I replied that it was sometimes fun. He then said that, yes, I was on vacation. I begged to differ then, and I still do. Running around foreign lands with poor street signs and no addresses is most definitely not fun. Scrabble is fun, movies are fun, reading is fun, TV is fun, sex is fun. Being lost all the time... not fun.

As the morning progressed I began to develop a headache. My muscles seemed like they were starting to ache? I felt a bit dizzy. I wondered if these symptoms were just fatigue and hunger, or if they might be related to the bump in my armpit. I wondered if the water in Beirut and Amman, which the respective hostel operators had suggested I not drink, was having an effect.

Interesting security at the airports. Cars, even taxis, trying to enter were being stopped, and the destination of passengers was being verified.

AARRGHH!!! Stupid RJ/airport personnel. I waited as long as I could outside the gate security checkpoint where the wi-fi seemed strong. When I finally decided to cross, I wanted to wait where the signal was strongest, but the stupid staff made me move all the way down to Gate 6. Why why why why why??? There is no reason for this!!!

FUCK!!! The toilet paper in the bathroom right outside the stairs to the shuttle is damp! I need to blow my nose!

Oh, I forgot to mention the flies. They were on the flight from Athens to Amman, and they're still here on the flight to Istanbul. The same plane? No idea, but one of the flight attendant's is the same.

Wow... a Zabar's joke on The Daily Show. Steward admitted that it was a very narrow joke, but I actually got it!!!

All three partners at first airport store had trouble with English. When I tried to explain to the supervisor what I was doing, he did not quite understand. Suddenly a female partner next to him blurts out "For free?" I said "sample"/"taster", and she understood this but only filled halfway. It took another round of back and forth for her to understand that I needed more coffee, and still she only came back with less than the Advisory Board-approved amount.

I would buy a short if necessary, but I needed to perform some other tasks first. The Starbucks did accept US currency, but at a rate of 1.17, which another customer said was too low. He looked up the rate for me, and it was around 1.23. There were three bank branches nearby, and they all offered rates around 1.23, 1.22, or 1.21, but with a 4% commission and no maximum. The customer who had advised me claimed all the branches in the city would offer the same rates, but I decided to just get $50. I wanted small US bills, so I paid with a hundred, but when I ask the agent for small bills, which I could distinctly see in her big stack, the bitch said she did not have any.

I obtained a free map from the information booth, but a quick inquiry of a customer revealed that the map only covered the old city. He said there were at least 10 Starbucks outside that map, and I figured many more.

I went back to the Starbucks counter with a 50-lira bill and asked for a short, but I told the barista not to use the short cup, but my sampling cup instead. The female barista who had half-filled me earlier intervened and said I did not need to pay for tasting cup, just for short and bigger.

Yet another customer translated for me and intructed me that the next closest Starbucks was at the next metro station.

I found the metro lobby and stood in line wondering about tickets. Rebecca had sent me information about some device that was supposed to be good on all the buses, but I couldn't remember if it was good on the metro too. Something called a "jeton" was selling at 1.40, or a little over a buck. I couldn't remember if this was the device, except I seemed to remember I would need to pay a deposit for the device that was around 10 something, so the jeton probably wasn't it. I purchased 10, hoping I'd be buying a device with 10 lira on it, but I was given ten coins instead.

A young Turkish man noticed my confusion and seemed eager to help me. I'd run into many other people in my travels who were eager to help a stranger, but this young man seemed overly eager. Still, I sensed no immediate danger so I followed him thru the turnstile and onto the train, and I sat next to him as he chatted. Fortunately, I was getting off at the next station. As I did so, another man got off, saw me looking around, and asked where I needed to go. I said "Starbucks", he said to follow him, and I wondered if he had received some kind of signal from the younger man on the train to try and rob me. But it was broad daylight, in a commercial area with people milling about, so I just followed him until we say the Starbucks logo on a building wall.

Again, none of the baristas seemed to speak very good English. And then things got really weird. One baristas handed me a phone and said to talk to the man. I still don't know who the man on the other end of the line was, some type of manager, but he spoke English, and I explained what I was doing, asked which Starbucks I was at, and asked him to ask the other baristas for a sample and instructions to the next Starbucks. He indicated I would need to take a taxi. I was hoping to avoid that.

I was feeling pretty tired though, and disturbingly weak. I decided to go ahead and check into my hostel and then consider whether I wanted to rest or go out to visit some nearby stores. I was aided in my trip to the Sultanahmet neighborhood by a very friendly young student name Songil--she said her name means "last rose". She seemed very interested in my project and in America (she wondered if it was easy to become rich there), but time will tell whether she actually goes to my web site and e-mails me. I have way to much experience with people who feign enthusiasm and interest to my face but then forget about me as soon as I exit the frame.

When I had lost my shirt in Amman I had not worried about it figuring I would no longer see chilly temperatures, except maybe in England. Wrong. By the time that I took the train and tram all the way to the Sultanahmet station I exited to find that the temperature had cooled quite a bit. In retrospect, it was not chilly at all, but it was rather I who was feeling chills because of my infection. But I did not know that at the time.

I cut through the park towards the Blue Mosque as the hostel directions stated, and I immediately noticed something I'd never seen in my travels--stands selling corn on the cob. I'd like to consider myself down with the corn, so I tried some. Hmm... mighty tasty. But messy. Which led me to notice a second thing, that the area did not have trash cans scattered about as liberally as I would have expected.

I could be wrong, I don't think the instructions to the Bahaus Guest House were correct, telling me to turn right when I should have turned left. If they had spent as much time on the directions as they did on the rules perhaps I would have had an easier time of it. 18 rules in all, more than I had ever seen at any other hostel. Most amusing--"16- You cannot use, touch or sleep in another persons bed in the dormitories."

Oh, and there were flies in the room--I hate flies!

I paid a perfunctory greeting to the surfer-looking California/Hawaiian who had a bed in the room, and I promptly went to sleep in the hopes that I could get up early enough to visit a couple of stores.

I was still tired and weak when a couple checked into the room, sometime after 7:00, but I figured that I would not be able to sleep any longer, so I got up. I put on my undershirt, and yet I was still shivering when I walked outside. I took another two fake Excedrin, and the pain abated some, but certainly not enough.

I found the Sultanahmet store quickly, took a photo, and then asked a barista for directions to another nearby store so I could photograph it before the sun went down. He told me to go left instead of right, and I ended up walking quite a long way down a hill before I found a young man who said there was no Starbucks down there. So I had to walk, in my weakened state, all the way back up the hill. That sucked. I was really cursing that barista, as well as the ones from Amman who misled me about Tamleek, all the way up the hill. Seemed to me that every barista should know directions to all the nearby Starbucks.

Spotted El Torito, and for a moment I was going to go for something familar (assuming it was indeed Mexican), but I changed my mind at the last minute and popped into the Sultanahmet Cafe and Restaurant. Ordered some chicken and potato dish along with rice. Got halfway thru the meal wondering why the chicken tasted so funny before I realized that I had been eating only the vegetables--the chicken was actually hidden unter the mashed potatoes. D'oh!

Asked the attractive young woman sitting two tables over (with her mother, I presumed), how much I should tip. She said 10% was probably too high, but I was fine with that. The woman, Dutch not German, was extremely friendly, and we chatted for some time.

Third store, again, all partners spoke extremely limited English.

My lessons for the day: "thank you" = "tesekkurler"; "gule gule" = "good bye".

Dude. I exchanged my dinars to lira, and the agent gave me 15 instead of 25. Was he trying to rob me on purpose? Hmmm...

Oh sweet Jesus, I might have really fucked myself. Google "tap water" Beirut, and you will see just how stupid I might have been. I hope I did not contract typhoid. Shit!!! Nausea and hives, which might be what I have under my armpits, are symptoms of typhoid! Wow, this is not good, not good at all: typhoid fever.

I looked up a list of doctors recommended by the U.S. consulate and went to bed intending to try to make an appointment in the morning. But then I started to worry. I worried that if I did test positive for typhoid that I would be barred from returning to the U.S. until my tests came back negative. I worried that I would be quarantined. I had vague memories of having heard about someone who had to pay $10,000 to fly back to the U.S. on a chartered plane. I did not trust that the U.S. government would do a good job of balancing my interests with the interests of the public, and I decided that I did not want to put liberty at risk like that and that I needed to return to the U.S. ASAP.

I looked up airfares--$950 bucks from Istanbul to IAD. Yoicks! I looked up a variety of options, but I found nothing cheap. Well, what could I do? I had to bite the bullet and spend the cash to assure myself the security of being inside the U.S. border where I have more rights and protections.

I could not, of course, help but think back to the case of that Andrew Speaker guy who flew back to the U.S. with some dangerous strain of TB. I did not read, however, that typhoid was transmitted through casual contact or airborn. I decided I would go ahead and fly and hope I did not test positive for anything highly contagious.

June 2, 2008

I woke up early enough that it did not seem necessary to take a taxi to the airport. I could not think of a good reason not to just walk and see if I could make it by 10:30. Don't know how I far I ended up walking from Gemmayze, but I figure at least 5 miles, probably more. I enjoyed the walk, but after an hour, maybe ninety minutes, I definitely started feeling a bit more pain in my shoulders from the backpack than I would have preferred.

Well, not all street vendors and small cafe operators are out to rip off the foreigner. At a produce stand on the road to the airport, I held a single tomato out to the owner and asked "combien"? He asked "one?". I nodded in response, and he motioned for me to just take it.

Walked into the lobby at 10:45 but did not see the check-in counters. Turns out that, unlike every other airport I've ever visited, passengers had to pass through security and customs to check in. When I did reach the counters, I did not see one for Royal Jordanian. I asked a customs agent, and he said that they were not open yet (so much for arriving three hours before a flight).

Wow. Not only did I find both American and European-style outlets in Beirut, the check-in lobby at the airport had a UK-style outlet. How does a country develop with disparate electrical outlets like that?

Figured out exchange rate for Lebanese pounds I got at the Athens airport--really lousy, about 1.30 compared to the 1.50 I was given at all stores in Beirut.

2 1/2 days in Beirut, and not once did I find free wi-fi, except at Costa Coffee (but a code was required).

Something strange in the restroom. Wedged between a urinal and a toilet stall divider was a blue plastic bucket with a spout. As I walked in a man was filling the bucket with water, and then he went over to the urinal. When I finished up in the toilet stall and came out, I could see the man pouring from the bucket down into the urinal. What was he doing? Cleaning himself? Something weirder?

Short flight to Amman, and just like to the flights to Beirut, once more passengers did not wait until the plane stopped before getting up to retrieve their carry-on luggage. I found this very annoying, because this robbed me of my natural advantage in reaction time. With my backpack already next to me, I should have been able to get several rows ahead of people before most got up.

Beirut was definitely the Middle East, but with all the French and English there was a Western quality to the city. As I approached the terminal in Amman, I felt like I was finally going to experience the "real" Middle East.

My first task in the terminal, after exchanging my remaining Lebanese currency to Jordanian dinars and obtaining an additional $100, was to find a map. The youth at the information desk not only did not have a map, but he looked at me like I was stupid to have even asked. I found one at the gift shop, for a pretty penny, 6 dinar, considering its quality. It was not very good, but it probably did make it easier for baristas to indicate where some stores where, as well as for me to navigate with some taxi drivers.

Free wi-fi from SAMA Telecom at airport, and later throughout the city I would find plenty of free wi-fi, albeit slow.

At the urinal in airport bathroom, an attendant took a strip of toilet paper and hung it on the urinal divider, for me. A minute later, after I washed my hands, he handed me more paper and looked at me. I was unsure of whether he wanted money or what. I only had bills anyway, and I was not about to give up a whole dinar, worth more than a dollar, to use the bathroom.

I sat down and looked at the map to see I could figure out where the airport was, and where the nearest Starbucks might be, but I could make no sense of it. I finally went over to a man sitting at table with computer and asked for help. He explains airport 25 miles away (too far too walk), looked at my list, and said Sultan Mall was one of nearest stores. That was good enough for me, and I went outside to look for the Airport Express bus.

In Beirut I had seen most women wearing ordinary Western clothing. Some had there heads covered up with some type of scarf-like cloth item (don't know the name), but I don't remember seeing any burqas or abayas. In Amman I would see both, but there were still many women, perhaps most, in Western clothes. Definitely more head coverings, though.

Traffic on highway from the airport to the city was orderly and smooth, nothing like in Beirut. The bus was air-conditioned.

UK style outlets.

33 celsius, but dry, and it really did feel cooler than humid heat.

No military seen throughout town, only at places that appeared to be bases or government buildings (there is some installation near the Abdoun store) and the airport. Still plenty of security at the malls though, and backpacks were screened.

The bus dropped me off at a KFC along a main road, and bus driver pointed up the hill, saying that was where the Sultan Mall is. I could not find it, but by asking people about Starbucks I ended up at the Gate Way store instead. I was given directions to the Sultan Mall from there, but they were completely wrong. I mean, the entirely wrong direction. I did find a Seattle's Best Coffee though, and I was surprised to learn that the Starbucks buyout of the brand in the U.S. did not extend to the Middle East. The barista there pointed me back across the freeway and towards the American School. From there I was able to find a young man who pointed me down another there, and I finally found the store.

Outside Sultan Mall it took me a while to hail a taxi. I kept seeing cars pull over and pick up passengers, and I could not figure out what I was doing wrong. Finally I moved down the street to where I had seen most of the taxis stopping, and I found one. I said "Blue Fig" with as much of an accent as I could muster, to try and mask my American-ness, but this was not necessary--the taxi had a meter. For 800 piastres I saved myself a heck of a walk--totally worth it.

Outside, as I shot the store, a security guard for the parking lot started looking in my direction, but he could not come over to me because I was in the median and stream of fast-moving cars separated us. I put my camera away and waited for the cars to pass, and the guard turned his attention to other business. When I could cross, I went immediately to a driver fininish his cigarette. I knew the ride was going to cost me more as soon as I told him the destination "Nadi al Siyarat" and he replied, in English, "How much?" I had tried to disguise my accent, but appearently I had failed. Time was running short, and the sun was setting, so I accepted 3 dinars. During the ride I thought I was being clever when I talked him down from 7 dinars to 6 too take me

Next to the Mecca Mall was another complex that had a Gloria Jean's Coffee. I told the driver to drop me off right there at the top of the hill, and I snapped a couple of pics for that guy who is into Gloria Jean's. Still haven't e-mailed him the pic of Athens, though.

Taking that pic outside might have caught the attention of two black-clad security. They were pretty far away and moving in my direction. Maybe they noticed me, maybe not, but I took no chances and walked in a different direction, around a corner, and into entrance too. Found the Starbucks, down two flights of stairs, but first I decided I needed grub because my head was a-hurtin' something awful.

In the mall toilet stalls, I was shocked to find... no toilet paper!!! Instead, a water spray, like in a shower. Say what what what??? I could understand a water spray in conjunction with paper and soap, as I am a fierce proponent of good anal hygiene. If I ever find myself in an intimate moment with Edward Norton, and he decides to ravage me, I definitely want my ass to be clean for him.

Lots young people speaking English in the mall.

Finally went and did it, left my long-sleeved shirt at one of the Amman stores. I did not realize it until I was walking from Mecca Mall to City Mall, by which time it was too late (and expensive) to return.

Shooting the City Mall store was exceptionally hard. There was no angle from inside that was not in view of the security guards checking bags and manning the metal detectors. From outside I had a partial view of the "Starbucks Coffee" sign, which was good enough, but I had to back up quite a ways, sit down, and way for a black-clad security guard standing out front to finish chatting with buddies and move out of my view, and then for some customers to move out of the way. I wish for world peace, but I wish more for Starbucks to stop building stores in fucking malls in countries where I have no rights!!!

To improve my odds with the taxi driver, I ask the barista to teach me how to say some words, "downtown" = "al balat". "Two dinars" = "dinar rin". "Three dinars" = "telat dinar". The driver understood me, but my accent must have given me away, because he said he would use the meter. Or maybe "meter" is the same in Arabic, and what gave me away was when I tried to tell him "Al Hussein" street and he asked for details.

The Farah Hotel turned out to be the hardest to find of all I'd stayed in thus far. Instructions said "Down town cinema on Alhussein St, behind Arab Bank." However, it was very inexpensive, and I was allowed to connect my laptop to network. I was hoping it would be fast, but it was just 128 DSL. Still cheap--1 dinar for an hour.

"nam" = "yes". "la" = "no". "ma salaam" = "good bye".

Dammit, nice guy at the hostel, but he was a fucking racist asshole. We discussed the election, and out of nowhere he had to make the claim that the Jews control everything. I tried to tell him he is wrong, but he was not going to change his mind. Fucking hate fucking racists, man. If the developed countries had the balls to do what it takes to eliminate racism, many problems could be solved.

June 1, 2008

Wanted to sleep as much as possible since it was Sunday, in case the City Mall Starbucks did not open 'til noon or later. Unfortunately, at 9:00 AM on the nose loud drums made sleep impossible. It must have had to do with the marathon, I thought--I had seen ribbons earlier about Gouraud, like to block off the street as part of the marathon route.

Around 9:30 the power went out. Common? Unusual?

Upon getting out of the shower I noticed that my big toenail was really big, dangerously so, it seemed. I did not want to risk ripping it off if I stubbed my toe, so I tried the biting and peeling technique. Didn't work--the nail was just too tough. Then it occurred to me that the kitchen might have a knife. It did, and I managed to use it like a saw to trim off little pieces of nail and rip others off until I felt more or less safe from rippage. While doing this, I noticed that the blister on my toe was really big and ugly. I poke it with the knife, and you should have seen how much yellow fluid came out. Gross!!!

After dressing I discovered an interesting parallel between the hostel and Lost. Regarding the show, I would be wondering until January where the island went. Well, I might wonder for the rest of my life where my Chapstick went. I took it out of my pocket before putting the jeans in the washer, and in the morning the Chapstick was nowhere to be found. Did the hostel contain a pocket of "exotic matter" that had sucked up my Chapstick?

pushed the button, and realized a second later that the power was out. I then wondered what would have happened had the power gone out while I was in the elevator. I can't imagine that would be good.

Reached the bottom floor and saw a military vehicle parked out front, and some soldiers chatting. There was no problem--as I thought, it was just security for the marathon. The bulk of the racers appeared to have passed by earlier, but there were still quite a few stragglers. As I walked west on Gouraud, I could not help but notice the stark contrast between the street the night before and the street in the morning. It was eerily quite, almost like 6th Street in Austin on a Sunday morning, but with marathoners. All the cars were gone, either moved or towed. My lips were feeling dry.

I've no idea if this is typical of Beirut, or if it was the neighborhood, but all the way down Gouraud I saw a smattering of shops open. Mostly restaurants, but also a flower store. I would not have expected this on a Sunday, and I doubt most florists would be open in America on Sunday. Or am I wrong about that?

Stopped at a French bakery. Most food in Lebanon had thus far been reasonably priced--not so for the French place.

From Solidere Square it took me a while to orient myself toward Hamra. Many more soldiers/police (can't tell, since they wear fatigues and carry automatic weapons) and tanks. When I finally oriented myself, I stopped to make some notes, quickly, but I was screwed by stupid Microsoft Windows XP. XP, or at least the version I have on my Inspiron E1405 in combination with the minimal software I've installed, has a problem where in putting it into standby mode sometimes takes many seconds, sometimes more than 30, sometimes almost a minute or more. Had the laptop gone into standby instantly, as it should, I would have escaped the notice of the grey-fatigued soliders guarding the building across the street. But I scrunched there on the sidewalk for a bit too long, and as I was about to walk on one came across the street and said something. I took off my headphones, put the iPod into my pocket, and said "Hello." The solider asked what I was doing. I told him that I was looking for the Starbucks in Hamra, and that I was getting lost a lot because the street signs were not good. He said something to his mate and asked where I was from. I said "Texas". He said "You are American." I said "Yes.", and he seemed to relax and motioned that I was free to go.

On the street that would eventually turn into Rue Hamra, I passed a mosque and heard the Muslim call to prayer, perhaps for the first time in my life. Farther down the street, a Roman Catholic Church.

Before reaching the Starbucks I passed a Costa Coffee. I remembered I'd been told they had free wi-fi, so I decided to stop in and see if their network was faster. To be polite, I ordered a drink. I was served a cafe au lait in a tall glass mug and given a clear plastic stirring "rod" with a small ball on the end. Unfortunately, perhaps because of all the patrons I saw with laptops, the network was no faster than the IDM network at Starbucks. Still, it was free, and I was able to get some podcasts downloaded.

Meanwhile, I continued to marvel at how people whom I have done favors for in the past can fail to do such a simple thing for me as call a couple of Starbucks to find out when they opened. I mean, it litereally takes about 15-30 seconds on average to make these phone calls. If somebody asks me to do something that takes that little time, I don't even think about it twice. It can be done while in the bathroom, while walking from the car to the house, etc. And yet a good number of these people fail to get back to me. Very frustrating. Even more frustrating is thinking about how difficult it will be for me when I finally return and try to call some of these stores myself, ones that opened a month or more earlier, and try to coax a date out of a reluctant and/or suspicious barista.

At Verdun, the security guard was the most security-conscious of all I had met thus far--he took my bag and checked all four compartments. I think the supervisor/manager was a bit security conscious himself--he asked to see my passport.

Anybody know what bird this is???

Found a drugstore that was open, but the only lip balm they had was something called Lip Smackers. Don't know what the balm was made of, but it is really bad. Still, better than nothing.

From Verdun I walked towards that Cola area again. I was surprised to learn, from a barista, the name "Cola" actually does refer to "Coca-Cola". There used to be a factory there, but it was destroy by a bomb during one of the wars. I never ended up finding Cola. When I finally asked somebody, he indicated I had passed it up. I did find a place where busses where passing, and I kept asking about Jounieh and not getting any positive replies. Finally one driver pointed across the street and said "6". I ate a burger (with fries inside) while I waited, and eventually a bus with a hand-painted sign that read "6" came by.

Dude, those guys want to get sued. A place called "The Boulevard Cafe", with a green sign and circular logo that bears a striking resemblance to that of a certain other coffee company.

Got off the bus with several other men when I saw the sign for Jeita Grotto. Parked on the side of the road were several taxis, and as I looked around a driver who already had four passengers, three in back and one in front, waved to me. I asked "Jeita", and he asked if I was going to the grotto or something I could not understand, like "autostrade". I guessed the Starbucks was not in the Grotto, so I said autostrade, got in, and hoped for the best. I figured that since there were others in the car, I could see what they paid and pay the same. Thus, I could avoid asking how much. When one passenger got off, I saw him hand 2,000. A bit later the driver indicated that we were here. I pointed to the Starbucks coffee logo on my shirt and said "Starbucks Coffee", and he said something that sounded like he did not know. Then I saw the Starbucks and exclaimed "la bas, la bas". The driver smiled. I exited the car and, not having two 1000s, handed him 10,000. He must have known I knew the fare was 2000, and he gave me back the correct 8000.

Even regular, non-uniformed, citizens (I assumed he was not an authority figure) are suspicious in Lebanon. As I photographed a view of the Jeita store and the mountain in the backgroun, from a staircase leading up into some building across the street, a man going into the building stopped and asked me what I was taking photos of and for what purpose. I guess war does that to people's attitudes?

Outside the Jeita store I looked around for a "service" back to the main highway. An older man pulled up to the side of the road, and I asked "service?", but he said no, got out, and walked in to the next building. I continued waiting for a "service" taxi (one with multiple passengers) to stop. After a while, I turned and notice the same man standing in front of the building, and he called out to me, asking if I was going toward Jounieh. I asked him how much, and he indicated, in French, that he did not want money. He was just offering me a ride. I had to think quickly and evaluate the possible danger. He was by himself and older--I could definitely overpower him, at least long enough to get out of the car. It was daylight, and the road between Jeita and Jounieh was heavily-trafficked--he would not be able to get me alone. I decided to take the risk.

No trouble during the ride--we just chatted, in French. Besides talking about politics and expressing his disinterest in the new Lebanese president. He was of the opinion that the president had little power, and that the real power in Lebanon was exercised by foreign states, not by the Lebanese themselves. Most interestingly, the man warned me to be careful of west Beirut. He said they did not like foreigners in that part of the city. "Hezbollah?" I asked, and he nodded.

I walked down the highway a bit and soon looked for a bus. I boarded and saw no seats, so I crouched down. The other passengers motioned under me--there was a fold-out seat there. I fumbled with it, and the man sitting next to it opened it for me. As I sat down, the other passengers were smiling and chuckling at my folly.

The driver honked everytime he saw someone walking or standing by the road. But this one when further. When he saw a women on the bridge crossing over to our side of the highway, he waited a good 2 or more minutes to see if she would board. From the looks on their faces, the other passengers were clearly dissatisfied with this. And from a business perspective, the waiting did not make sense. In those 2 or more minutes, we could have drive a ways down the road and picked up several more passengers.

Lots of security at City Mall. The Starbucks is just a kiosk, and I sat towards the back of the seating area with my camera ready so I could take a photo when the opportunity arose. I wanted to upload my files first, but when 21:00 approached I realized stores might be closing, and I wanted to look for some perfume for my mother. I took a crappy shot from the right side of the store, and then I went over to the left. The supervisor, who had been chatting with me earlier, came over to ask if I needed anything else, and as we chatted I took the opportunity to snap some shots, figuring that security would not object if I was with a Starbucks employee. Wrong. A guard came over speaking in Arabic, and the supervisor, Aladdin (yes, that was his name!) intervened and explained my purpose. The guard eventually relented, and then we took a photo of me and some baristas.

Down at a store called BHV I inquired about this Pascha fragrance that my mother wanted. The store had it, but only for men. I asked about something local, something Arabic, but the attendant showed me a fragrance by Gucci. Then I remembered the restriction on liquids beyond a certain size, and I asked her if she knew what I could take back to the U.S. She did not, and I decided I needed to research this first. Because the Internet connection was so slow, I could not find the answer, and I left wondering if there was any perfume I could take back to the U.S. (in my backpack).

Outside, I found a driver with one other passenger, and with my French I managed to get a better price than the night before, 6000 back to Gemmayze.

Back at the building, I wondered if I should take the elevator. I risked it, thought that was probably stupid. Up in the room, about 15 minutes after plugging in my laptop the power went out again. Very annoying because the Starbucks at City Mall had not had outlets in the seating area, and my laptop was almost out of power.

May 31, 2008


The night before, Mady had told me that there would be no drinking water on Saturday, that this was just something Lebanese had to deal with. Though there is no direct connection, I nonetheless did not expect that there would be hot water for my shower, and I was surprised when, after not that many seconds, the stream turned warm, then hot, and stayed so for the duration of my shower. No shower curtain, though. I would have thought Mady would have provided one if for no other reason than to make the task of cleaning easier.

Odd--the Starbucks had an American-style power outlet, not the European (German) one like at the hostel. I asked the barista, and she said that I would find both European and American style outlets throughout Lebanon. Later, at different Starbucks, I would find the European style. Wow. I would have guessed they would be consistent at least at Starbucks.

Rebecca had written that I could not walk to stores around Beirut. Mady at the hostel had also initially said I could not walk to Ashrafieh, but later she seemed to suggest it might be possible. She said the taxi ride would only be a few dollars, but since it was early in the morning, not too hot, and because I expected to have to wait for the mall store to open anyway, I decided to walk it. The walk wasn't bad at all.

On the way I looked for signs that there had been fighting recently. Did not see soldiers in the streets. When I finally saw armed men, they were in front of what appeared to be a guarded complex. The instructions say the hostel is 500 meters from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, so that's perhaps what the build is. I did notice what might have been bullet holes in the concrete wall.

Walked past the ABC Mall. It was not yet opened, but plenty of security was visible.

A traffic officer, sitting down, observed me keenly as I photographed the Ashrafieh store.

An hour of Internet at Starbucks, through a company called IDM, was reasonably-priced, but slow. The status icon indicated 54 Mbps, but my podcasts were coming down at a snail's pace, and web pages took much longer to load than they should have.

Barely 9:30 AM on a Saturday, Sassine Square, already a traffic jam requiring the attention of that traffic officer (and keep his attention away from me as I took more photos).

A guard said the mall, and the Starbucks, would not open 'til 10:00, so I walked around looking for food. Did not find any open restaurants, just a Colombiana Cafe across the street, so I went back to Starbucks for a honey oatmeal scone and juice. Pretty decent. The juice wasn't that great, but much cheaper than in Europe.

Rebecca had warned me about this. As I entered the mall a guard had me put bag down and open it. He just glanced inside, no serious inspection. Photographing wasn't too difficult though, because the Starbucks was in a part of the mall that was not as exposed.

The baristas seemed intrigued to have an American there to visit Starbucks, and were very helpful in telling me the order that they though I should visit stores in.

Smoking in seating area, inside the mall.

I went outside to find a taxi, hoping to find one who spoke decent English or French. Not seeing many options, I decided to try one man who called out to me. I knew there was a possibility of getting scammed, but I decided to let the situation play out. Within a minute of getting in the taxi I was looking for a seat belt. Not that the driver was overly aggressive, but traffic from Sassine to Galaxy was pretty insane none the less. Cars angling every which way. Youths passing us up on what appeared to be a two way street. Cars precariously close to each other. No wonder then, that as we made a turn and neared Galaxy I saw a couple of drivers looking at their cars that had collided.

Yep, as I had expected, the driver asked for an exorbitant amount, 10,000 instead of the 1,500 fee that I had been told to expect. I did not fee like protesting, nor did I care that much about 6-7 bucks, so I handed over the bill. I was a bit amazed though that the driver appeared to suggest that if I needed another taxi, that I could find him at Sassine Square. Fat chance of that.

I could not find a map at the supermarket, and the baristas could neither give me good directions for getting to Spinneys Centre nor were they sure if it would take 15-20 minutes by foot, or more. Outside I flagged a taxi driver and tried to get a price up front, but he was thinking 10,000, so I passed. I walked down to the intersection and just guessed I needed to go right. A few hundred meters down I asked one of the few passersby I saw (few people were walking in the sun and heat) and he said I needed to go to the next intersection and turn right, then head downtown and I would be close. I walked a while until I saw an Internet cafe and I went inside to see if I could connect my laptop and get a faster download of podcasts. I was not allowed to do this, but the manager/owner did speak enough French to indicate that Spinney's was 10 kilometers away. Whoa. I couldn't walk that. I could run that, in less than an hour, but walking would take too long. He indicated a taxi might cost 2000.

I went back out to the corner to seek a taxi, and when I found one who spoke French I was able to get a quote of 5000. I wasn't sure if I was supposed to try and bargain it down, but I wasn't going to sweat a couple of bucks. Again, another crazy drive, but slower. Traffic was chaotic, and that is being generous. Most crazy, a lady driving backwards at a fairly high rate of speed.

I hung out at the Starbuck a while planning Amman and Istanbul, and then I went into the Spinneys for some fruit. What a hassle. First I had to leave my bag at a booth, which worried me given its contents. Then, when I went to pay for my banana and apple, several patrons appeared to cut ahead of me to get into line. Then, when it was my turn, the cashier told me she needed a code. I went back to produce and found an apple with a sticker, but none for the bananas. I went back hoping a different cashier would know the code, and he told me I needed to have them weighed. AARRGHH!!!

The baristas Spinneys suggested I walk to an intersection (or something) called Kola (Cola?) where I could catch a bus heading north to three stores, starting with ABC Mall Dubaiya. Very close to Spinneys I cut through a lot that appeared under construction, maybe. Next to it was a building that might have been abandoned, containing the husk of a car. In front, a big pile of garbage. Next to the building, a series of structures that resemble the Middle Eastern urban housing I've seen in TV news reports--concrete and cramped.

I passed a burger joint, and even the mundane act of eating a cheeseburger became exotic when the fries I ordered came back inside the burger. Not on the side, but inside. Jeepers.

I continued towards an overpass looking for this Cola place and these buses. As I neared the overpass I saw parked next to the pillars a tank, rounded with barbed wire and manned by many soldiers in and around. I had seen an increasing number of soldiers as the day progressed and as I moved around, and the tank was the heaviest military presence so far.

Found the red and white bus and waited about 5 minutes. As we drove, I tried to orient myself, but it was tricky because the road signs on the walls just said "Rue XXX" in French, where XXX was some number, and then also something in Arabic. There actually were signs that corresponding to what was on my map, but they were not obvious.

Under another overpass, a Hummer filled with soldiers.

The bus gradually filled up, and as we continued an older Lebanese gentleman sat down next to me and noticed my map. We chatted for a while, and I learned that he had been a limousine driver in Chicago and in Toronto and had once driven Ralph Nader (who is of Lebanese descent, I was surprised to learn) to a talk or conference.

At the ABC Mall I was ready, with my backpack held out to the guard as I entered. But that wasn't all--when I left, another guard wanted to check my bag too. Something else I noticed at the mall, something surprising, was that a woman was cleaning the bathroom despite their being men there. This does not happen in America, but I have gotten used to it in Europe. I did not expect it in Beirut, however, with its Muslim population.

The supervisor at ABC Mall was exceptionally generous. He walked me outside to find a taxi and then negotiated a 2000 price to Zalka for me. Had I tried by myself, I would have been charged more. Shortly after we drove off, the driver picked up another passenger going to Zalka, and then a third passenger going somewhere else. I was surprised, not used to having taxis stop to pick up multiple passengers.

Interesting... noticed later from the Spinneys receipt that thte total, 1835, was rounded down to 1800. There was an explicit line on the receipt that read "Rounding -35".

I walked from Zalka to the Main Coast Highway and started walking north wondering where I could pick up a bus. Turned out that was not an issue, because every bus that approached me would honk. I think the assumption was that nobody is actually going to walk to his destination up the highway, and that all pedestrians are seeking a bus. I, on the other hand, decided I was not in a hurry, and I preferred to walk for a while and perhaps find a massage place or a perfume store to pick up something for my mother. Wasn't sure I wanted to buy it now, with so many weeks left before flying back home, but my mother had a fragrance stuck in her head that my father had brough her from somewhere in the Middle East.

There's also the fact that, with plenty of time to reach all my Starbucks, walking was rather enjoyable. I had views of the sea to my left, and mountains (developed with houses in many places) to my right. I had a chance to see all the shops and businesses at a slow pace, instead of just getting glimpses from the bus.

I did spot a massage place, but it was across the highway. I'm not at all timid about running across roadways, but you really need to see the traffic on this stretch of highway to understand my hesitance. I looked around, did not see anybody else crossing, and I decided against it. Up a few hundred meters was a bridge, but by then I did not want to backtrack.

Past the bridge I saw a sign for a place advertising a variety of services from facials to various therapies, micro-dermal abrasion maybe, and also medical massage and jacuzzi. I should point out now that commercial buildings here in Beirut, and also back in Athens, exhibited at least one major difference from American one. The business in the buildings were allowed to place signs high up on the wall of the building--I assumed the location of the signs corresponded with the floor where each business was located. In America, businesses are listed on a sign out in the front of the building, and in the directory in the lobby, but not on big signs on the outside wall.

Anyway, I walked up to the nth floor, rang the bell, and was greeted by two men, one of whom had a bandage on his nose, as if it had been broken. They did not speak English, but they understood the word massage. One man said no massage their, and he made some type of motion pointing at his face or eye as he did so. I inferred that he was indicating to me that they performed only some type of face or eye therapy. The other man indicated there was massage up the highway, and then he said "massage and" and made a jerking motion with his hand as he did so.

Farther up the road, a health spa called "To the Limit" turned out to have closed down. The old man at the the nutrition store who confirmed this did so with a wry smile, as if he knew something about that place that I didn't.

Farther still, I spotted an interesting-looking sign that read "Top to Toe". I guessed correctly that they did offer massage, but with it's being Saturday, they were booked up. The owner was a very friendly blonde New Zealander, perhaps in her late 40s. She explained that they did not typically offer massage to men. Because of the culture in Lebanon, massage for men by woman had a certain connotation, especially if the owner was foreign. Upon learning of my Starbucks project, she seemed to think I was interesting and said they would take me, but it had to be on Monday. As I needed to be at the airport by 11:45 or earlier, that wouldn't work.

I finally tired of walking and took the next bus to Metro Super Store, only 1500. Upon leaving I decided to walk south, unsure if I could make it by bus to Jeita before the sun went down.

Views walking south on the Main Coastal Highway from the Metro Super Store.

It finally became apparent that I would never make it to Jeita in time without a taxi (and perhaps not even then, given the traffic), so I decided to wait 'til Sunday. I kept walking, but soon it began to get dark, and I questioned the safety of walking along the road. Sometimes there was no sidewalk, forcing me to walk pretty close to the passing cars. Furthermore, occasionally one of the sewer holes would be missing a grate. Easy to see in daylight, but I feared missing one at night and falling in and breaking a leg. I hopped on the next bus I found.

Maybe a mile or two down the road I finally spotted a sign that read "massage". I grabbed my bag and halfway stood up, but the driver did not take this as a clue that he should stopped. He went quite a distance before he stopped, to pick up a passenger, and I had to walk back to the place, called Parisiana. I did not see the elevator, so I walked up to the sixth floor, and as I passed dark floor after dark floor, I couldn't help but think those dark floors would be a good place for a mugger to hide.

Though the price seemed good, $30, the therapists expected more of a tip than I would have predicted, and the service was hardly better than what one would find a countless pseudo-massage places in America, only with Lebanese therapists. Not bad by any means, but I was rather irritated at the end when the therapist, Mira, asked me for a favor, to change euros to dollars for her. I had no problem doing that, but the was saying $60 for 30 euros, which I knew was flat-out wrong. I was guessing around a 1.66 rate, and Mira then claimed she had been told it was 1.70. The next day I saw it was 1.55, which, when the buy rate and commission was factored, probably came close to 1.70, so I did not really lose out. I was miffed though, that she might have been trying to take advantage of me even as I was doing her a favor.

Contrary to what the Parisiana manager claimed, I was indeed able to find a bus still running. It took me to an area called Dora, where I looked for food. Settled on a place that had pizza and what appeared to be calzones or pizza rolls on display. I remembered to lead with French, not English. The cook did not speak French, but a young woman at the counter translated for me. She was very friendly, and I sat with her and her friend and practiced my French. At the next table was an older gentleman who overheard me say "espanol" in my list of languages, and he turned out to be able to speak decent Spanish. In fact, he had been in Panama recently, and seemed intrigued to learn my mother was from there. All three found it interesting that I, a Texan, spoke French.

When it was time to leave, the young woman and her male friend were very kind in helping me to find a taxi and obtain a halfway-decent rate. They were shooting for something called "service" which would be a taxi that would carry several passengers, for about 5-6000 from Dora to Gemmayze, but when the driver came back with 10,000 I said that was okay. I wasn't going to sweat 4,000.

I would have felt better about not finding a cheaper rate if the driver had actually gotten me to my hostel. Instead when we reached the Gemmayze sector the driver indicated he would go no farther because traffic was at a standstill, blocked by the line of cars waiting to enter what appeared to be a main drag through the area, Avenue Gouraud. Even though the map I had bought had not really helped me find any Starbucks on Saturday, it came in handy in orienting myself towards the hostel. I walked down Gouraud, which was jammed packed with people, cars, and soldiers every block or two. This was definitely a happening part of town, and it looked like the action would not die down for a long time.

When I disrobed and walked into the bathroom I noticed a HUGE bump on my hip. Earlier, during the massage, the therapist had indicated something on my backside and wondered out loud what it was. I assumed she was referring to the acne and said they were pimples. Well, she had actually been referring to the huge swollen bump. It was so big I'm not surprised she did not take it for a mosquito bite. Even I, knowing how much I tend to swell, looked at the bump and wondered if it was something more serious.

I soon discovered the reason for the bite. The doors to the balcony were not locked, and without locking they slid open. Just a tad, a crack, but more than enough for evil mosquitos to enter and go to town.

The reason I went out to the balcony was because I heard sirens and an extremely loud bullhorn shouting something in Arabic. I wondered what the problem was, if another war was breaking out. When I went out to look I saw what appeared to be tow trucks with flashing light bars driving down the road. Since there would be a marathon in the morning, I figured that the bullhorns were alerting residents to the fact that cars were being towed. Whew. I was relieved that it wasn't fighting down there.

Well, d'oh!!! It had occurred to me on Friday night to ask Mady if there was a washing machine, but I just figured there wasn't and did not ask. Well, imagine my surprise when I saw a door next to the kitchen with a paper sign reading "STOREROOM/LAUNDRY". Yep, there was a machine there. Finally!!! After 26 days, I could wash my filthy jeans and freshen up the other items that I'd been washing in the sink.

May 30, 2008

In sharp contrast to the worst three hours of my trip, the previous day, walking around looking for a store, the best hour of my trip occurred in Friday morning. Around 8:25 I finally found a torrent of the Lost season finale, and it started coming down fast. Really fast. I had planned to have breakfast, go up to the F. Negri store while leaving the laptop in the room, and still have to wait hours for the download. Nope. Came down in less than hour, all 123 minutes. Yeah!!!

Niiiice. White paint, I guess, on the back of one of t-shirts. Must have leaned against something.

As badly as I wanted to get to the Frozen Donkey Wheel, I resisted the urge to watch the entire season finale before departing. That's not to say that I did not dress and pack more slowly than usual while I watched, but I could not logically burn 123 minutes that I could use to visit one or two more Greek stores.

Next to the Pagrati store, the Havana Club. I should have known better than to get my hopes up. No Cuban food. So very sad.

From Mihalakopoulou, the bus that I hoped would take me to Deree downtown turned off the main road, and I was promptly lost. After receiving some advice from a passenger, I managed to oriented myself towards the Zografu store instead. This turned out to be better, because there I was told that Deree downtown was actually inside a university campus, a separate branch of Deree College, and that I would not be allowed in. I fully expected to be able to get in by speaking with security, but I expected that might take some time. I was out of time, and already cutting it close for my flight.

Missed the 1:31 train from Evangelismos to the airport, had to wait for the 2:01. Watched Lost while I waited, and the older lady sitting next to me, perhaps not owning a laptop or other type of video player of her own, kept glancing at the video on my screen.

As I figured, the only persons sitting on the floor of the train were a pair of non-Greeks, Carrie and Ashley. They were Canadians, and for some reason I was surprised by their names. I can't say I really have a basis for thinking this, but Carrie and Ashley just don't seem like Canadian names.

Wanted to e-mail the hostel to tell them to cancel the taxi in case I was delayed at immigration, but I could not get a free wi-fi signal. I tried using a free Internet kiosk, but Yahoo! mail would not come up. I considered just paying a few bucks for wi-fi access from OTENET, but I did not even see an option for that on their home page.

As I looked aroundaround for a restaurant or stand that sold orange juice when I heard someone call out, "Mr. Winter." It was the Royal Jordanian representative who had tracked me down to inform me that he thought I would indeed next a return (or outbound) ticket from Beirut in order to avoid trouble with immigration. He took me back through passport control, but even this was a hassle because he was not allowed to take me out through the booths where I had entered the secure area. I had to go through passport control in the other direction, where the passengers arriving in Greek were crossing. When we reached a counter, the agent their told the RJ rep (presumably) that he had to go to the office. We walked across the hall and into a room where an immigration agent at , serious, smoking, said something to the RJ rep that indicated he needed to wait. Seated next to the desk was a dark-skinned man, Nigerian according to the passport the immigration agent was holding. The Nigerian looked worried.

We were finally cleared to return to to the ticketing area, where I bought a one-way ticket from Beirut to Amman for Monday.

Broke my record again for the most paid for orange juice, 4.05 euros at the airport. But that was nothing compared to the highway robbery that was the spaghetti and meatballs from Sbarro. 15.70 euros for crappy spaghetti and mediocre Arizona iced tea. Even though I had eaten lunch, I had to keep it light, just a hot dog, so I could eat and walk, and I was getting hungry. Unsure of whether I'd receive food on the plane to Amman or to Beirut, I figured I needed to eat.

Oh... frozen donkey wheel... now it makes sense! And... wow.

Prior to serving the meal, the flight attendants gave each passenger a warm moist towelette. I cannot remember having experience this on any flight in all my life.

Some parting notes of Greece. On several occasions I witnessed met whistling at passing women. Not sure if this is considered acceptable there. But I'm so glad to live in country like the United States where men never whistle at women.

Also, every city seems to have its own character of beggar. In Athens, besides the train beggars, women with children seemed to be prevalent throughout. Every time I saw one I wished that I could end her suffering, but unfortunately I live on a planet where all of world's societies are cursed with primitive moral sense that defies rationality. Governments would prefer to allow people to live in poverty and suffering rather than taking all the necessary steps to end that suffering.

When the plane stopped and we passengers arose, a short dark-haired man moved quickly amongst the passenger and settled right in front of it. As he passed I detected a strong and pungent odor. Nobody else seemed to take note. My shirt was definitely gamey, especially if I put it right up to my nose and smelled deeply, but its smell would never approach the odor coming from that man. Oh, he didn't look homeless, either... he looked like a perfectly normal businessman.

Exited the plane onto the tarmac and immediately saw security-types in berets and fatigues... military?

Because the flight was delayed, we touched down at 19:35, and it was alredy 19:45 when I entered the terminal. That was the boarding time for the flight to Beirut!!! I had to act fast. I got lucky, and the Starbucks in the airport was right on the way to Gate 6. This gave me time to ask for the manager (assistant) and confirm that all stores in Jordan (according to him) were operated by the same company, Al Shaya.

Upon arriving in Beirut I made good use of the long walk to the immigration area to get ahead of all the other passengers. I showed my passport to the agent, full expecting to be questioned, but he just looked through the passport and made a bright red stamp. That was it. I expected still to pass through another checkpoint where I would be questioned, but I just kept walking and found myself outside. I spotted the taxi driver holding the sign reading "Mr. Winter", and I asked him about the visa situation. I told him I did not receive one, and that I did not know where to get one. He made an inquiry a differently-uniformed agent who asked for my passport. He looked through it, saw the red stamp, and said that was my visa, good for one month I think. That was it, no need to pay.

I was pleased to see French in addition to Arabic on the signs at the airport. Somewhere in the back of my mind I kind of knew that there was some connection between Lebanon and France, but I had not really remembered until I saw the signs. I was glad to have yet another opportunity to practice my French, and even better, I was glad to have a backup language to communicate in when I ran into residents who did not speak English (and there would be plenty).

We arrived at the hostel around 10:00, and Mady was waiting to let me up. The place was more like an apartment with 3 or 4 rooms. Totally unlike any hostel I had ever stayed in, but it had received a 90% from the one person who had reviewed it on Everything looked clean and well enough, but as I feared I could not use a credit card to pay. On the other hand, I was pleased to learn that most businesses would take American currency (but not euros).

No Internet though, and the three wi-fi networks I was seeing were all locked. Because I could not get wi-fi at the airport, I had gone the longest period of my trip, except for nighttime when I slept, without checking my e-mail, and I felt isolated. I also felt disoriented because AutoRoute does not extend to the Middle East and I had forgotten to try and find a map at the airport. So much of my life is centered around maps and knowing where I am that I feel very disoriented when I lack a map and location.

Is that a bidet in the bathroom?

Turned on the TV, and I was amused that the first thing I was was The Black Donnellys, a show that only lasted about half a season on NBC in 2007. It was a pretty good show.

May 29, 2008

8:23, better. I had hoped for earlier in order to better adjust to the time change for Beirut. But later I noticed that, according to the time zones listed in Windows, Beirut is also GMT + 2. That's weird--it seems so far away on my AutoRoute map.

AARRGHH!!! Stupid Apple and stupid Phillips, too! Apple for making earbuds that don't last, and Phillips for making earbuds with a wire that is a stupid length. The portion attached to the earbud is not long enough to reach my pocket, and when I use the extension the cord is too long. I look like a dork. I feel like everyone is thinking I look like a dork. And the cord keeps tangling on things, and the earbuds keep falling out. AARRGHH!!!

Outside the Kallithea station I asked a trio of youths if they spoke English. A young woman replied, emphatically, almost with a chucke, "Of course!" That was the second or third time I had received such as response. It seemed as if her attitude was that any educated, perhaps hip, Greek is assumed to understand English.

Small world. Or should I say, small city? Ran into George, from the Support Center, again, at the Kallithea store. He and other partners were doing a tour of stores. Hey, I can relate!

Had an unusual experience upon reaching Piraeus. I exited the station and looked, as usual, for an attractive young woman of whom I could inquire about the Starbucks. Finding none, I asked a tri of older persons sitting on a bench. The man to my right and the woman in the middle replied "no" to my inquiry about English, but the man on the left instead asked if I spoke German. I replied "ein bischen", and I asked where the Starbucks was. The man did not know, but he proceeded to ask a couple of people, in Greek, and then translate back to me in German. Greek to German... I hadn't expected to use that combination.

Finally, after 8000 store visits, a barista told me that I was really lucky to be able to do what I wanted. He was absolutely right. I'm lucky to have been born in America, to have learned to program computers, and to have ended up about as free as someone can be on this planet.

The second store came much easier, only one one wrong turn, and my course was quickly corrected by the first person I asked.

But to find the third, inside the port, I experienced the worst three hours of my trip to that point. The directions were straightforward, walk inside the port and go to gate E4. When I walked in I headed the wrong way, but a guard quickly told me I was at E10 and pointed me in the right direction. E10? Wow, I thought, it could be really far to E4, but at that point I did not know how close the gates were, so I was hopeful.

The gates turned out ot be pretty darn far apart, and it took me quite a while to reach E4. When I arrived, I saw no Starbucks. A big boat was blocking my view of what was beyond E4. I was going to continue on, but a man passed by and I asked him about a Starbucks. He said there was none on inside the port. I should not have believed him, but I turned around and headed out to E5, where he had pointed. Over the course of the next 90 minutes I must have asked more than 10 people, the most for any Starbucks I think. Besides the soreness in my feet and legs, my left shoulder started to hurt. This was strange--I had walked more in the past few days, though perhaps not without stopping and perhaps not with the same level of frustration.

After a while I ended up at the Filonus store, where the supervisor assured me the Starbucks was in the port and pointed me in a slightly different direction, to the gate across from the trains station. Still nothing.

Had a brief break when a young man stopped me and asked if I was the Starbucking person and asked for a photo. I had not been recognized from the movie in quite a while.

I finally went back to the Akti Miaoyli store for more detailed directions. I wanted the baristas to call the OLP store(s) and get a specific gate. Between the two baristas I must have asked four times if they could call the store and find out what gate into the port I needed to take, but the manager/supervisor just gave me the phone # and insisted that it was easy to find the store. She did not seem to recognize the pleading look in my eyes, nor sense the air of fatigue I was obviously radiating. Nor did she understand that I was under a deadline, and that the two hours I had so far expended looking for the store were going to cost me a chance at visiting one or more other stores.

I finally went to E3, which was on the other side of the big boat I had seen earlier. Had I just kept walking another 100 meter, if that, so I could see around the big boat, instead of listening to some guy off the street who said there was no Starbucks inside the port, I would have saved more than two hours. AARRGHH!!!

After waiting some 5 minutes for the bus to E1, I decided that E1 could not be that far from E3, right? I went back inside to ask the manager, and she said 10-15 minutes. Probably would have taken longer than that if the bus had not happened to show up just as I walked outside. Still, I made the wrong judgement and got off the bus way too soon. Not only did I have to walk quite a distance, but for a moment there I thought I was going to be lost for hours again when I the sign to E1 did not seem to make sense.

So I found the two stores in the port, but as I walked to the final Piraeus port, I felt so incredible tired, more than at any other time during trip, only 5 stores by 5:00, massage place appt only, school. I had often been asked if I ever tired of my Starbucks project. In fact, I was asked something like that during Starbucking. I replied, yes, it does get tiring, and times like these, after spending hours walking to find a store, the project became particularly tiring and tedious. Throwing in the added factor that I had left a new girlfriend behind back in the states, and that I could be back there now trying to set a record for how much sex we could have in a period of time, I had to wonder what I why I was walking miles and miles in the hot Greek sun asking question of people who didn't speak English, suffering mosquito bites and sore muscles, all to visit Starbucks. In fact, the words "I'd rather be playing Scrabble," from the ads that used to run (maybe they still do) in magazines, was pretty true that week. Seeing all the reports from the Memorial Day tournaments made me wish I hadn't had to miss them. But I can't be in two places at once. Yet.

Finally, an easy store, Paelo Faliro, right along the road the bus (E1) was going. I needed an easy store.

Kalamaki would have been easy, if I had not zoned out and missed the tram stop. D'oh!

Science project, mixing the Sanpelegrino red sparkling orange with the lemonade flavor. Tasty!

Grrr... I returned to the hostel expecting to finally, at 24 days, wash my jeans and give everything else a better washing than I could accomplish in the sink. Just my luck that, maybe an hour earlier according to the desk attendant, the laundry machine had broken. The attedant expected someone to come in the middle of the night, so washing was still a possibility, but I would have to get up in the wee hours. I wasn't sure if I would.

Okay, here's the part where honest blogging gets tricky. If it were just a case of readers thinking I'm creepy, that would be okay, because I'm sure plenty of readers and people who meet me think I'm creepy already. But because I publish my itinerary and intend to travel and stay in hostels for a long time to come, I have to consider the possibility that somebody out there who reads about certain creepy acts performed in a hostel might decide to try and make trouble for me by forwarding my blog to future hostels where I might stay. Unlikely, I would say so, but still possible. As a result, readers will just have to try and imagine what creepy thing I might have done in the hostel in Athens, and also back in Munich. Be creative.

Not long after getting into bed sleep became impossible because the Argentinians returned and started making a terrible racket. They were getting ready for an early-morning departure, apparently. I could understand that. Why they spent so much time in the goddamn shower... that I'll never understand. I was forced to go to the bathroom on the bottom floor. The elevator only went down to the ground floor, so I had to take the stairs. When I came back up, the annoying desk attendant told me I had to wear a shirt in the lobby. Whatever, I thought, and got in the elevator.

May 28, 2008

8:49, still not the 8 AM that I would have preferred (which would have been 9 hrs, all I should need after drinking much coffee), but better. Maybe by Friday I will have adjusted to an 8 AM wakeup just in time to change time zones again.

Say what what what? Do my eyes deceive me? Is the desk attendant at the hostel actually smoking at the desk???

Smokey though she was, the desk attendant did direct me to a street where I found Kotsovolos (if I transilterate correctly). As expected I paid way too much, 30 euros, for some Phillips earbuds that were not as comfortable as the Apple model. I'd have to dump them, and my $48 when I returned to the US and found an Apple store. That's a lot of money to burn because of stupid Apple can't-even-last-a-few-weeks earbuds.

For somebody who is a big fan of Gloria Jean's and asked me to take photos if I saw any.

Fianlly booked that flight to Beirut. I'm commited now. If you don't hear from me from Friday night on, please notify the consulate to try and get me out of prison or whereever I'm being held. Try to get a message to the kidnappers asking if they will accept my comic book collection as payment.

No coat hangers on the doors in the restrooms.

After two stores in Patision, I had to detour to send yet another bear to Alex in Taipei. Fortunately the post office was on my way to the next store, and figuring out how to send it was not that difficult. I just had to make the staff understand I wanted to send a parcel and that I needed a box (they gave me a bubble-wrap folder). Shipping was just 3.05, cheaper than from Austria, and much cheaper than the 8 that Germany would have been.

Scrabble sighting.

Ah, teenage girls. Not only are they a blessing upon the world, they are also extremely likely to know where the Starbucks is. And they also tend to be impressionable, glad to meet Americans, and eager to help with directions.

I went into the restaurant across the street from Nea Filadelfia and glaced at the offerings. I kind of wanted to experiment with what appeared to be chick peas, but I just wussed out and settled on the veal with potatos and some bread.

From Ilion I took a bus through many wandering streets, not knowing when to get off. But, as I had guessed, the big clue for the metro station was when the greatest number of passengers deboarded. One stop later on the green line, a tall man wearing a red and white jersey boarded and began to say something loudly. I asked the middle-aged, yet attractive, blonde woman to my right if she spoke English, then what the man was saying. She said he wanted money. All the other patrons seemed to ignore him. The man moved down along the car. Next to the blonde woman was an older woman, and she appeared to cross herself repeatly.

A few stops later a tall young woman entered, blonde, clearly influenced by Paris Hilton in terms of hair style and clothing. I was once again reminded that I had been asking myself for day whether any ethnic Greeks are truly blonde, or whether they are all dye jobs?

Walked from Marousi to Marousi 2, and on the way saw one of the many hair salons I had seen all over town. I had been craving a massage for days (weeks actually) and been surprised not to have seen any place advertising massage all around Athens. I figured they would use the word "massage" in Latin characters for the foreigners, like in Japan and Hong Kong, but I never saw it. I asked the hairdresser to write out a translation for me. He did so, but he said it was not likely I'd find massage at the hair salons (like in the US), or even parlors that just offered massage. Mostly at the hotel spas, he said.

Meanwhile, the frustrations of trying to get store opening date info from afar continued, as most of the persons I enlisted to make calls did not understand what questions to ask to elicit an answer of the correct date. The fact that Starbucks routinely has incorrect numbers on their web site, thus requiring a chain of calls, didn't help.

I caught the next bus heading in the direction of Kifisia. I asked a young man (after determing English speakaficity) if the bus was going to the train station, which is where I thought I had been told to get off. He said it actually stopped at the bus station, and from there I could walk to the trains. When we arrived, I spotted the Starbucks, pointed, and said that's where I needed to go. He replied that he himself was going McDonald's. Oh, yuck! I don't understand how somebody, living in a city with such a diversity of food, could patronize a disgusting huge American chain like McDonald's!!!

At one of the next stores I ran into another example of the angry heavy barista. In general, I tend to receive a goodly percentage of disdainful receptions from baristas who are very heavy (obese). In the absence of any kind of research, I can only guess that obese people are angry at the world because of their condition and take it out on thin people. Little did he realize that under my t-shirt I am, while not exactly obese, still morbidly rotund.

Cripes. The young woman sitting to my left on the train just moved away from me about an inch or two. Since I was busy processing my photos and never even looked at her, I could only imagine it had to do with my odor? I was showering and scrubbing every day, so the odor itself, if that's what it was, wasn't coming from me. Were my shirts finally too ripe? How do you ask a person, "excuse me, did you just move away from me because of my smell?"

Yahoo!!! Almost at 8000 stores!!!

AARRGHH!!! iTunes, are you screwing with my computer??? WHY???

And why is an ant crawling along the table in the hostel?

When I finished updating my site and went up to the room, later than I had hoped, I opened the door, looking around, and cursed to myself. The Japanese lad, Kazu, was still there, alseep but there was somebody new, and he had done something annoying. He had moved the center bed to allow him to open both windows (they opened out) all the way, and then he moved the bed back, thus preventing me from closing the window. I went about my business of getting ready for bed, and when I got out of the bathroom I saw him turn and open his eyes. I took the opportunity to get his attention and explain about the mosquitos, and he was agreeable to moving the bed back so we could shut the windows. Despite this, I found yet more bites on my body the next day, and I was awoken in the middle of the night to a buzzing that prompted me to cover myself in the sheet despite the heat.

Incidentally, the person on the bed to my right had not been Kazu after all, but instead a young Argentinian woman. Man, I must be slipping, if I walk into a room with an attractive young woman sleeping in shorts on a bed and confuse her with a Japanese lad.

May 27, 2008

Around 2:00 AM a young couple arrived, and as soon as I heard them mention that it was hot I "suggested" (emphatically) they not open the windows. The male (let's call him L.A. since I apparently suck at remembering names) noticed a screen and wanted to give it a try, but as soon as he opened it he saw a hole. Fortunately he preferred to avoid getting bitten, and the windows stayed closed.

A few minutes later a pair of young French men arrived, and I told them, in French, the same thing, "S'il vouz plait, n'ouvrez pas la fenetre, parce que il y a beacoup des mosquitos." They got the message.

Don't know why I felt so loathe to get up, even past 9:00 AM. I would have gone back to sleep, but the girlfriend came back into the room and started talking with L.A., and that motivated me to jump into the shower. Plus, I was really hungry.

In three days I had already ridden on the red subway line several times, and I kept seeing this stop, Acropolis. Acropolis, Acropolis--why does that sound so familiar? I think I might have heard of some type of old histroric relic or building there, right? Yeah, I think I might even have seen some stone in the backgroun peeking out over the treeline.

Did not want to wait until Varkia to eat, so I went first to that Starbucks I had spotted the night before, which turned out ot be Nea Smirni. Took advantage of the gift Starbucks card to get some juice and a scone. Was curious to try some pastry with cheese and "boureki", but the barista said it had some type of meat, and I wasn't in the mood for meat yet.

Forgo that there are two tram lines, and I got on a tram that was not headed to Voula (or is it Voulas, which is what is on the tram). Only went one stop too far before I realized it, and I was quickly back at a stop where I could catch the correct tram. While I waited I went across the street to the market for a banana, as I still had some orange juice to wash it down with. Upon boarding the tram and finding a seat, a heavy man holding a half-finished bottle of water drank the remainder and then quickly held the bottle out to me and said something. I replied "then milao elinika", but I kind of got the gist of what he wanted. The man next to him, possibly his friend, nudged the man with his elbow and said something. The man kept saying things, not necessarily to anybody. He had a large white glob of something (some type of growth, it seemed), on the right side of his mouth, where the lips come together. A few minutes later a pair of youths boarded the train. One was holding a bottle containing some water, and the man once again held out his bottle and asked for water. Then he asked for more. Later still, another pair of youths boarded, and the man asked for a cigarette. A few minutes later a goateed young man wearing a bright pinkish/orangish button-down shirt and a music player boarded, and the poor guy was forced to engage the man in conversation. When the man finally left the tram, the young man expressed obvious relief. The two cigarette-bearing youths chuckled.

WOW!!! The tram runs so close to the businesses that I'm actually able to pick up wi-fi, and send and receive e-mail from the tram!!!

Big hair! That's what a lot of these Greek women have in common. Big hair! Not necessarily like Texas in the 80s, but still big hair.

As I sat at the bus stop in front of a church in Voula, waiting for the 170 to Varkiza, I pair of women passed, hand in hand. To the best of my memory, this was the first overtly lesbian couple I had seen in three weeks in Europe. A week or so earlier, in Germany, I think, I had seen a pair of younger, adolescent or teenage, girls holding each other closely, but that could have just been girls being affectionate like girls often are.

Waited for that stupid 170 for more than 30 minutes, I think. I finally gave up at took 120 going to the Vari store, figuring I could get to Varkiza from there. A young lady, Tina, confirmed this. She also answered a question that I had been trying, to no avail, to make a man at the bus stop understand. I had read an article from 2000 about Greece that reported that there was some debate about whether identification cards should display religion. Her card did not, so apparently opponents won that debate.

Oh, that man at the bus stop. When I said I was from Texas, his first comment... "Cowboys!" as he made a big hat motion with his hands.

While waiting for the 171 from Vari to Varkiza, I looked up flights to Istanbul again, but also to Beirut. Hmmm... I could get to Beirut from about the same price as from Turkey, though Jordan. It occurred to me to e-mail Royal Jordainian Airlines to make sure the Beirut Airport is open, and they replied within a couple of hours.

I made it to Varkiza with little problem, but I misinterpreted (I guess) the directions out to the main road and ended up walking quite a distance. In fact, I found myself back a the Vari store, and I had to take a rest there for some cheesecake and juice, even though I was already running behind schedule.

I finally continued walking to the bus stop and took the bus that was headed towards Ano Glifada (jeez, why can't they get the spelling consistent), but I had no idea where to get off. I had to engage in a tedious process of deboarding, checking my location, and reboarding the next bus so it could get me closer. Walking might have been easier, but I was trying to avoid making my blister much worse. I finally figured out a way to get closer to my intended stop. I counted the number of cross streets on AutoRoute between my location and where I wanted to go, and when I was on the bus I counted those cross streets. I got pretty close.

AARRGHH!!! STUPID APPLE!!! I'd tried cheaper headphones, but I just did not like them. The Apple earbuds were the most comfortable, but expensive at $30, and they don't last!!! I was on my third pair, and they also went on the fritz from constant putting into and out of my pocket. I wasn't getting sound out of the left earbud unless I adjusted the wire in a certain way and held it there. Grrr...

NOOOOO!!! No the Greeks too. It's bad enough that a bunch of stupid Mexicans hate emo and attack emo kids, but now the Greeks too? Upon leaving the Argiroupoli store I saw "FUCK EMO" written on a box. Grrr... I'm not emo, but I like some mo bands, and I'd love to date an emo girl. Except, to my knowledge, no emo girl has ever directed a smile my way.

Ugh. Uncomfortable pressure in my nose. Still worried about that sinus infection.

Apparently this kitten was trying to use up one of its nine lives!

After getting my bearings on Syngrou and heading towards the Starbucks I passed the first strip club I had seen in Athens, the Lido. Though it didn't open 'til 10:00, there was a man out in front a couple of hours early, and I asked him for details. 10 euro cover, and no private or lap dances, only something called "strip dances". These were just dances on the stage, according to the man. Lame. Not even worth waiting opening to check it out.

When I was offered the Starbucks card I almost turned it down (not that they would have let me) since I was having little trouble getting samples for free. But given the heat, that car came in really handy. I drank plenty of fresh orange juice and tried different other beverages like the Pelligrino red orange flavor and the lime flavor. I even tried the brambleberry Tazo tea even though I never really cared for Tazo. And yet, at the end of the day, I was still thirsty!!!

Oh, forgot to mention that the Greek stores tend to be more like to have the 4-oz sample cups next to the bar or more easily accessible. Perhaps because the Greek order more espresso to take away? In German I was told espresso was ordered a lot, but usually in the cermanic cups and drunk quickly in the store.

Back at the hostel, I went up to the room to find a mess of suitcases and clothing all over, and a startled female peeking her head out of the bathroom door. From Minnesota, she was, which made sense, given her sense of modesty. During our talk she stayed in the bathroom instead of just coming out to change. She apparently hadn't learned that hostelers are pretty liberal with the modesty.

Anyway, she said she and her friends had a sixth friend who wanted to stay in the room if it was possible. I said I didn't mind moving under two conditions, that I could get a bottom bunk, and that my dormmate was okay keeping the window closed. The desk attendant found me a room with just a young Japanese man, so I moved my things. Granted, I would have preferred to share a room with three college females than a Japanese kid, but I have to abide by the principle I preach, that if you can help another at a negligible cost to yourself, you should do so.

Hey, my dormmate from last night is the guitar-toting brother of a musician, Kat Parsons. He was doing some gigs overseas, like in Thailand. Other times he played out on the street.

May 26, 2008

Michigan, Diego (?), and the two Maryland ladies had moved out. That allowed me to engage in some chicanery in the wee hours when I heard a mosquito buzzing by my ear. My 10+ bites from Germany had finally faded, but I had a huge new one on my side. Since the bed had not included a second sheet, only a blanket, I took one from the other bed. I also closed the window, which I had not asked to do the previous night because the females were complaining about the heat. I covered myself up in the blanket, but the problem with that was I started sweating profusely. I finally had to let myself breathe and hoped that in the interim the mosquito had sated itself on the Canadian.

The Canadian left early in the morning, which left me all alone in the room, and I remembered to do some pushups. This was the first time in some 19 nights in a hostel that the room had been emptied except me, and I found myself the benefactor of a bounty of riches. A bottle of shower gel, almost half full. A nearly full tube of Colgate toothpaste. It was the flavored kind, which I don't like, but what the heck--my tiny Crest tube was running out.

Ah, this should help with those pesky Greek letters!

Remember that fruit stand vendor in Germany, Munich I think, who gave me the banana for free. Well, I wasn't finding any of that in Athens. No, the two vendors I had patronized thus far were only too eager to charge 50 cents for a banana, a pretty steep price. This morning I also added some strawberries, and though I just wanted a small amount the vendor just put a couple of scoops in a bag and charged me 2 euros for the combo. Well, maybe he was giving me a bargain, but I doubt it.

Wow, 3.50 for the truly fresh-squeeze orange juice at Starbucks in Athens. Almosts as much as the 3.90 for the small bottles in Vienna. However, the amount in the grande cup seemed to be more than what was in those bottles, and of course it tasted better because it was truly fresh-squeezed, from oranges right there in the store.

Around the corner I picked up some unknown pastry which was pretty good. Some type of bread, fried I think, with some type of cream and sweet taste. Cinammon and sugar were sprinkled on top.

During the subway ride down to Dafni I was listening to a "This I Believe" report about the man who was tasked with distributing compensation to the families of the September 11 victims. For the briefest of instants I lost track of the fact that I was in Athens and imagined myself on the subway in New York City. It was just a brief, brief instant, but still understandable given how quickly I was moving from city to city.

I must point out that I experienced great disappointing upon arriving in Athens, walking around, and discovered no topless women. Something I had read years, maybe decades, earlier had led me to believe that women in Greece routinely walk around topless. Well, maybe out in the country, but not in Athens. This is not to say that they are modest, by any means. I've walked around in American cities in the summer, and I'm pretty sure that the Greek women show more cleavage.

Down in the subway, I saw old ladies hawking what I presumed to be lottery tickets. This reminded me of Panama, where the same can be see along streets throughout the city.

The Dafni store was easy to find, by which I mean I only had to ask one person. From their, though, it got tough. The baristas pointed me to the main arterial, Leoforos Vouliagmenis, and first I had to orient myself and then hop on a bus. I had no idea where to get off, though, because I could not, from my position standing on the bus, see the cross street names and translate the Greek script quickly enough to match up to AutoRoute. I just had to guess where to get off.

At the bus stop I made inquiries of some gentleman and ended up getting back on a bus for another few stops. Once I got off it took me a while, but I finally figured out where I was. Part of the problem was that I could not recognize some of the characters in the name on the street sign--they did not match the ones from the chart. I finally figured out that they were in lowercase. AARRGHH!!! Just when I thought I was getting the hang of it, they go and throw in the lowercase letters.

I had to pull out the laptop half a dozen or more times to check my position, but I finally made it down to Aghios Dimitriou and to where my map showed that the Support Center is. I couldn't figure out where the entrance was, though, until I remembered that I had been told security probably wouldn't let me in. I had assumed the barista was referring to a security desk in the lobby of the building, but actually the Support Center was located in a complex that held offices of various companies, and the security was checking all cars entering from the road. This actually made it easier for me, because I just walked in past the security desk and was not stopped. I think the guard glaced at my Starbucks t-shirt, and that may be why he let me through.

I walked to the back and to the right, then up until I saw the Starbucks sign. As I approached the entrance a middle-aged man holding a phone passed me on my left. A second later I heard, "Hey Winter!". I first assumed the man had been a partner I had met at one of the stores I had visited Saturday or Sunday, but he did not look at all familiar. Turned out he had seen my website that very day and recognized me. He took me inside and got me some water, and then he went and retrieved the managing director for Starbucks in Greece. I was given an exceedingly warm welcome, as warm as when I visited the Support Center in London.

After taking care of some business, George (the partner, not the managing director) was very generous with his time in sitting with me and helping plot out at least a general location, train stop, tram stop, etc. for the rest of the stores on my list.

I'm not sure AutoRoute was accurate, but nevertheless I was able to make my way from the Support Center out to Leoforos Poseidonos. I oriented myself partly by seeing the mountains in one direction and what appeared to be water in another. The what I was looking at could have actually been a gulf, I hoped that was the Aegean, and I could not help but think back to Sophocles via Matthew Arnold.

I took a tunnel under the road to the other side and began trying to figure out where the tram station was. I had to walk south a bit, and I spotted a beach and decided to take some obligatory non-Starbucks, non-building, scenery photos. Suddenly I noticed a young woman not that far away on the beach, and she was topless as she changed shirts. I looked around, but I did not see any other topless women. I'm guessing that while the beach was not a topless one, the young woman didn't really care about being topless, nor did anybody else around.

While on the trap I chatted with a pair of Australians (after once again failing to identify their accents). They got off the tram a couple of stations before mine, commenting as they did so that they were going to try and find good coffee. Not sure if that was a jab intended at me though.

I found the first store in Glyfada (Glifada) straightaway, and in response to my query about Italian food a barista directed me across the street to La Pasteria. As usual, spaghetti, but with a twist, a dish called spaghetti ruga, with veal. When the waiter came over he was carrying a plate containing a silver metal cylinder. I could see pasta poking out from the top, and I wondered if I was expected to eat it like that??? Nope--they were just being stylish. The waiter lifted the cylinder to reveal the pasta as it spread out over the plate.

Mariah Carey at the next table. Of course not, but maybe a Playboy model I had seen recently? Nope, couldn't be, since she was speaking Greek, and I think the model I saw was in the All-American Girls section.

Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator

By the time I reached Voula the sun was starting to set. I wasn't sure if I would reach Varkiza before night, and certainly not both Varkiza and Leoforos Varis, so I decided to head back and come back in the morning.

Why am I still watching Desperate Housewives??? The characters all do such stupid, completely illogical things!!!

Ooh, on the tram back from Voula I passed a Starbucks. Had no idea which one it was, but I made a note of the stop so I could head there in the morning.

Well, I guess I should consider myself lucky that it took three weeks to manifest, but I finally developed a blister. On the toe next to the big toe of my left food. All afternoon I had thought it was just irritation from where my nail had cut my toe, but that hadn't even been the same toe.

May 25, 2008

One of the other roommates, a young man from Mexico, did not come back into the room until about 6:00 AM. He promptly fell asleep and began snoring very loudly, much to the chagrin of the two young ladies from Maryland. Alyssa asked me to roll him over, but I was hesitant to do that. I tried to just wake him by tapping him and saying "Diego, Diego" (not sure if that was his name), but this guy was out like a light. Finally she got fed up and took the initiative and shook the guy hard. She did not speak Spanish, so I told Diego he was snoring very loudly and asked if he could turn. He seemed to stop... but just a second, and soon he was back to his old tricks. Alyssa took more forceful action this time, actually turning Diego to face the wall. Nothing worked. The snoring rarely stopped, and from 6:00 to 8:00 I did not sleep--don't think the ladies did either.

Okay, maybe I was being too harsh on the hostel. In the morning when I spoke to the lady she said there was no problem, that I had only been charged for three days, and that extra days would be the same price. Just need to check that credit card statement in a few days and make sure what she said is true.

Though I had to pay 4.50, breakfast at the hostel was halfway decent--eggs and French toast.

More cats, escaping the sun, something I would not be able to do for most of the day.

I went back to the store that had been closed, and as I feared, it was closed all day Sunday. The same man who I thought had been police was in front of the building across the street, and this time I saw he was not police, but just security.

The next closest store was also closed. Crap, I thought--will any of the stores I visit be open, or will the day be wasted in a city with nothing else of note to see.

Meanwhile, after 14 days, a nail on one of my left toes was so long that it was digging into the adjacent toe. When I found an open Starbucks I went into the restroom, took off my shoe, and saw that the damage was getting pretty bad. I'd cut into my toe quite a bit and had bled considerably. I decided to see just how flexible I could be, and I managed to get that toe to my teeth. I could not actually bite the nail off, but I was able to scar it enough so that I could dig my fingernail in there and peel off much of it. I decided I was going to have to spend money on nail scissors that I'd just have to discard before boarding the plane to the U.S., but since it was Sunday I might have to wait 'til Monday.

Finally, a store that was open, in a posh neighborhood, Kolonaki.

Crap!!! Literally. Presumably because of all the stray dogs, the sidewalks would occasionally be booby-trapped with these gifts of canine love. With no easy way to clean off my shoes if they became soiled, I had to be extremely careful.

At the next store, Kolonaki 2, still seemingly in a posh area, an adolescent boy came into the store with two fingers in his mouth and a cup in the other hand. He went to each customer and said nothing, but his intent was obvious. When I came to me, I shook my head, and he patted my shoulder with his hand. He went up the stairs. Meanwhile, the supervisor was making drinks, but when he had a free moment she went looking for him, but he was already upstairs. When he came down, his fingers were no longer in his mouth. He approached a few more customers and then walked to the door, holding up the cup towards the supervisor and shaking it. She waved him off with a stern look.

Meanwhile, I was adding to my arsenal of Greek words. EFHARISTO = Thank you. THEN MILAO ELINIKA = I do not speak Greek. PARAKALO = You're welcome (and also please???). YIASAS = Hello. NE = Yes. OHI = No.

Oh, there are many more free wi-fi networks to be found in Athens than in Germany.

At my eighth store I met the first barista in Greece, the manager, who had been to my web site. He was very excited to have me there and had me a sign a cup for the store and take photos.

After spending a bit of time verifying store addresses, I was famished. Found nothing along the main avenue on the way to the text store, so when I continued on I decided to try side streets. I really needed protein, but I can hardly ever resist a place that serves crepes. Plus, I have to find out whether the Greeks can make crepes, don't I??? All in the name of science.

As I stood on the sidewalk preparing to shoot a store two men pulled up in a motorcycle. They spoke something in Greek as I pulled off my headphones, and I managed to get out the magic words, "then milao elinika". They quickly asked if I spoke Arabic, and I said no, English. Spanish? French? I did not even bother with German, and I wished them good luck as they pulled away. Incidentally, the pair made the fourth time I had been asked if I spoke Arabic in the last three weeks. I really need to learn Arabic.

I had never given Greek women much thought, but after meeting a few baristas, and especially the young lady on the bus who told me where Cosmpolis is, I was starting to think that some of these Greek women were extremely attractive. And the way they speak English, with an accent different that that of the Germans or French, I could definitely get with that.

At the next store one of the baristas was extremely helpful in helping find a nearby store, the second in Chalandri. That didn't make the walk any shorter though, and I was pretty beat by the time I arrived. Part of the problem was a newly-discovered pain in my right foot when I stepped a certain way. I had to adjust my gait to avoid a certain type of pressure. Also on the health front, my phlegm on Sunday was thick and white, of a nature that I associate with sinus infections from the past. That worried me, because a sinus infection would force me to cut my trip short.

The next two stores were up the same street, Pentelis, but I did not walk far before I spottted El Taco Bueno. I had not had Mexican in a while, and I figured why not see what these Greeks, if that's who they were, could do. Well, they did not speak Spanish, so they were not imported Mexicans.

Ahhhh, glasses on the table and a pitcher of ice water brought out to me. I assumed it was free, unlike in Germany where they charge for water.

Okay, I'm figuring some of this Greek shit out. By comparing the Greek letters on the street signs with the Roman letters below them, I am figuring out how to pronounce some of the letters I don't know. That will help me sound out the names, and that in turn will help me find them on my maps.

Vrilissia was farther than I had thought. Whenever a barista tells me how long the walk is, I am overoptimistic and assume I can walk it faster. Not so this time, and I was beat when I arrived. Should have taken the time to figure out a bus. After Vrilissia 2 I just didn't have the energy to walk all the way to Cosmopolis Center. Still had to walk to the bus station though, but the upside of waiting, in Athens, was that I picked up a wi-fi signal and was able to find someone online who could process some more coming soon Starbucks numbers for me.

Oh, yeah, I'm getting better! Contrary to what Michigan and Wales were saying the night before, not all the street signs are translated into Roman letters. Far out from the city center, on the smaller roads, it was all Greek to me. But by comparing my AutoRoute with the street signs and making inferences, I was able to figure out what several more of the Greek letters were. Too bad I couldn't understand the bus driver, though, because he was apparently asking where on Sorou I wanted to get off. I did not know, so I got off as soon as we hit Sorou, not realizing he would be going further in my direction.

I did not see any security guards, but I might have caught the attention of somebody who worked for Cosmopolis. He was not dressed like a guard, but he had insignia on his shirt, and he seemed to follow me until I went down the steps and out onto the street, at which point he turned back. At The Mall, I spotted security right away, several. Asked one for directions to the Starbucks, then kept my eye on the one that was up on the floor where the Starbucks is. When I finished chatting with the manager, I walked around, trying not to look suspicious, as I found an angle. I lucked out, and the angle I wanted happened to be out of view of the guard, who was standing looking around--a column blocked me from view. But just as I was about to shoot, there was a rush of people walking in front, and I had to wait and mentally will them to hurry before the guard started walking around.

May 24, 2008

It appears I had become too accustomed to the signs for the train system in Germany, because I was looking for a similar sign for the S7 to the airport and ended up racing right past the platform and missing the train. Several hundred meters farther, in a separate area, I hopped onto a different train called the CAT, sat for a while wondering why I wasn't leaving at the appointed time of 9:26, and then left to go ask if that was the right train. It wasn't. Turned out that I would not see a printed sign for S7 in the station, only for S--the various S numbers were only denoted on the electronic signs at each platform.

A slightly different security setup at the Vienna Internation Airpot. I first passed through a very light checkpoint staffed by an older Asian woman who did not even look at my passport. I crossed into an area filled with shops, and I found the Starbucks very near my gate, C58. It was at the gate itself that I actually had to put my belongings through the conveyor belt, and the agent there did actually look at my passport.

I was surprised that lunch was served on the plane, but it availed me little. I can only assume it was Greek food, and I recognized little of it. I was able to separate out some cheese and ham and scrape off the white creamy substance and make a sandwich with a roll.

That pressure I had been feeling the previous day in my left ear was made worse by the descent. I'm used to my ears popping, of course, but this time the pressure in my ear was actually painful, and I was greatly relieved when I finally landed. Ear never popped though.

The reason I had had to clear customs in Zurich and in Cologne was because Switzerland is not in the EU. Flight from Vienna to Athens, however, I was able to skip it.

My database did not show a Starbucks in the airport, but I checked at the information desk anyway. Nope, none. Next step was to figure out how to get into the city, or where my hostel was, or both. I did not expect the agent at the information counter to the street where the Athens International Youth Hostel was located, Victor Hugo, but when I told him the names of the stations that were listed in the directions, he found it. Metro train was 6 euros there.

On the train I asked a couple who spoke English if they had seen any Starbucks, and they said there was one at the Omonia station, which was one away from my hostel. I decided instead to exit the subway at Syntagma Station which appeared to be a main transfer point. I figured there had to be a store nearby. I exited the station and asked about four different people, none of whom knew of a Starbucks. Then I spotted some police across the street and asked them. One directed me down Mitropoeos street. After walking a few blocks and not seeing the store I stopped in a plaza and asked three or four different people. Two said they had seen a Starbucks nearby but did not know where it was. I kept walking, and when I reached the other side of the plaza, there it was!

First thing I noticed was the oranges for the fresh squeezed juice, like in Spain and France. After waiting a bit, a shift supervisor took the time to sit with me and point out nearby stores and also explain that all stores in Greece were run in partnership with the same company. Good--no worries about licensing.

In sharp contrast to the chilly weather those last few days in Germany, Athens weather was perfect. From Mitropoleos I walked across the Cathedral plaza and down a series of streets that were narrow and clearly intended for tourists given the sheer volume of shops hawking souvenirs. I wanted to eat something before finding the next store, but I know very little of Greek food. One item I do recognize, however, is a giro, so I stopped at a stand. Standing next to me was a woman, and I wasn't sure if she had been ahead of me in line, so I asked if she spoke English so I could tell her she could order before me. She spoke French, only limited English, and that turned out to be a good thing for me. She was very friendly and talkative and seemed charmed by my Starbucks project. She hung around with her pita, I joined her, and I was able to practice quite a bit of French and refresh my memory on some words. Before I left she gave me her e-mail address and suggested meeting for coffee when I got to the store near her work in Paris.

As I was leaving I realized I had left my map on the counter of the pita stand. It was gone. Bastards!!! Can't a person leave an item unattended for a minute without somebody stealing it???

In sharp contrast to most of the Starbucks I've visited, which are prominently location, the next store was tucked in the trees. The supervisor, half-English, half-Greek, was also exceedingly helpful. Coincidentally enough, she had a copy of the same map that I had lost, and she was very patient in sitting with me and plotting the locations of more than ten stores.

At the next store the supervisor was unenthused by my project and, after I asked for him to fill the sample, left it maybe 20 drops shirt. I did not want to ask him again, so I tried to figure out how I could get those twenty drops. I considered asking one of the other customers drinking coffee if I could have a bit, that seemed weird. I considered waiting for a customer to leave a cup on the table and try to see if there was coffee left, but that might have been weirder. Finally I just waited for the supervisor to go into the back, and I asked the cute young female barista who seemed eager to help me.

I dawdled a bit chatting with a local, and when I arrived at the next store a bit after it had closed, at 20:00. I of course took the photograph while there, and that took a while because of the low light. As I was finishing a police officer came up to me and said "hallo!!!" Before he said anything else he glanced at my t-shirt and said something like "oh, okay" (not exactly what he said), and I managed to just walk on. He kept an eye on me though, even as I went around the corner and down the block. He was speaking into his radio, but that might not have to do with me.

In sharp contrast to Switzerland, Germany, and Austria, I saw many stray dogs in my first few hours in Athens. Later that night I also saw a cat walking outside. As far as I can remember I did not see a single stray cat in Germany (although I wasn't exactly prowling any back alleys).

One more store, and then on to the hostel. I was immediately disappointed when the attendant said they had not moved my reservation back a day like I had asked, but instead just charged me for Friday. The attendant probably did not have the authority to make the change and suggested I speak to the lady in the morning, but I was still miffed. Further, unlike all the other hostels I'd stayed in, they only took cash. Grrr...

I went out for food and ran into Michigan and Wales. Michigan was one of my dormmates, and Wales was in the room across the hall. I decided to sit with them a bit and ordered a sausage pita. After a few minutes I remembered that the lady at the pita stand earlier had started putting some type of sauces on mine, so I asked them to make it plain. Too late, the man said, and he showed no interest in replacing my order with something I could eat. I would slam the place here on my blog, but I can't read the Greek letters so I don't know it's name!!!

While I sat there some commotion broke out when I pair of youths ran through the street. I assumed they were just fooling around, but after a second or two it became clear that people were motioned for someone to stop the taller youth. Not sure about the second. I saw a couple of police angling their motorcycles around to chase him into the alley--Michigan said there were about six. I kept a tighter hold on my backpack, and I only took my laptop out for a brief moment to make some notes. The fewer people that saw me with it the better, I thought.

Wow, I was really hating this fucking hostel. I returned and sat in a small room with some other computers to process my photos. It was almost midnight, and there were, like five or six free seats, and yet the attendant came over to ask me to work on the other side of the lobby to leave seats for the people waiting to use the computers. There was nobody waiting anymore!!!

My IT powers failed completely to help a gentleman who was trying to use wi-fi with a Netgear adapter under Windows 98. Windows 98!!! Dude.

Up in the room, an extremely cute young student name Kate from Rockville, MD. She was traveling with Alyssa, the same guest who had been waiting for the computer and had shown zero interest in chatting with me. Kate, on the other hand, was very friendly. When Alyssa came up to the room, it was clear she was less than enthused to find out I was one of her dormmates.

May 23, 2008

Nuts. Definitely sick. No headache, but I felt the start of muscle ache. Tried to sleep as much as I could, but couldn't past 8:30. The fact that I'd sleep much of the time on the train the previous day was probably a factor, plus the coffee, though I'd only had three in Nuremberg.

First stop was at the post office to mail off the bearista. Turned out slightly cheaper than it would have been in Germany. The customs form was in French, which I found curious. When I asked the postal worker he said that French was the international language of the post. That was news to me.

Not wanting to take my fake Benadryl which often makes me drowsy, I went into a drug store (apotheke) and learned that in Austrian no medications, even aspirin, are sold over the country. I paid an exorbinant amount, around $10 for some probably unnecessary Clarityn. I took a pill, but by the end of the day, maybe 6 hours later, I was already sniffling.

Still smarting from how much I'd paid for euros at the hauptbahnhof in Germany, I did a little but if comparison shopping, going into various banks to learn the commission rate.

As I had promised myself, I made my first taste of coffee in Vienna, famous for its coffee culture, be from somewhere other than Starbucks. I googled "vienna coffee house" and came up with Cafe Central. I had to skip a couple of Starbucks on the way, but the walk was great. Vienna is, as I had been told, beautiful. I passed an area with very large and majestic buildings that probably had some historical significance.

Without thinking about it said "un" when ordering a cappuccino. But was I speaking the Spanish "un" or the French "un"--I really have no idea.

The waitress did not ask me what size cappuccino. Perhaps there is no choice. It cost 3.90, plus, since it was my first Vienna coffee experience, I went ahead and tipped up to 5. That was the most I'd ever paid for coffee anywhere. Of course, Cafe Central was rather posh. As I had read, the coffee was served by wait-staff, came with a cholocate--I didn't know whether to it it first or after. Needless to say, the cappuccino was good. My only regret, that the taste was surely affected by my congestion, and my enjoyment dampened by the mild headache that seemed to be getting stronger.

Nearby was the Bognergasse store, and even though the decor was definitely Starbucks, somehow the looked appeared a bit more posh than your average Starbucks.

Wow!!! A different brand of fresh bio orange juice at the Vienna stores, in a bottle that appeared smaller than that of the German container, but for a much higher price--3.90 instead of 2.50!!! Despite the price, I couldn't help myself--I am an orange juice fiend. It was good, but still, the price!

Lucked out at the next store--the supervisor introduced me to someone with the title "District Coffee Manager". I mentioned that Vienna had 11 stores, and he said a twelfth had opened just a few days earlier, nearby!

Wow, that was nasty. Down in the shopping center in the subway station, some girl just spit on the floor. WTF???

Also in down in the subway/shopping center area I noticed many dogs, all muzzled. A law?

Jeez, Vienna has mad tourists! I think I've seen more tourists than in any of the other cities I on this trip. Karntnerstrasse all the way up to Rotenturmstrasse was jam-packed with tourists.

Bought a day pass, but I couldn't figure out the correct stops, so I ended up doing more walking that I needed to. By the time I reached Allgemeines Krankenhaus I was exhausted. My mild headache, more like pressure actually, had not abated. I was hungry. My left ear was stopped up. And I felt very warm and flush, more than I would have expected just from the walking.

U6 got me right from the Krankenhaus to Millenium City, and I was soon back on the subway to Karlsplatz, and from there to the Albertina. By the time I bought a ticket and checked my backpack (grrr...) I had about 50 minutes before closing. 1-2 hours is my usual patience limit for museums, plus I was sick, so I wasn't too disappointed. I'd spent more, $20, for MoMA, for a couple of hours. I got to see the Picassos, my main reason for going, and most of the associated exhibit (at a quick clip). I could have used more time for some dude named Paul Klee--he was pretty good.

The museum trip also turned out to be a bit of a brief lesson in German because the painting titles were usually listed in both English and German. I think I might remember some of those words better by seeing them in context. I was reminded of The Terminal, in which Tom Hanks' character learns English by examining copies of the same travel publication in both English and his native language.

A quick hop on the subway to Meidling, and I was soon back on Mariahilferstrasse looking for food and for my samples from the two nearby stores. It was bound to happen, that after nearly 150 stores in Europe, I finally ran into a barista who did not care to give me a sample. He did not deny me outright, but he only filled the sample cup less than halfway. When I asked for it "ganz voll", he just added a little bit, putting it at around 60-65%. He made it clear from his dismissive tone and demeanor that he did not want to deal with me, so I had to pay 1.70 for a short and also deal with the hassle of explaining to the other barista that I wanted her to put it into the sample cup (so as not to waste a short paper cup).

I had a further complication, in that for the first time in a trip overseas I was attempting to save the coffee (from both stores) until the next day. The reason was so I could sleep better and also because I would not arrive in Athens until late afternoon--I did not want withdrawal on the plane. While walking up and down the street and seeing signs for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, I remember I wanted to try and find an English-language theater. There was one right down the street, but I was then forced to deal with the issue of the coffee, since no outside food or drinks were allowed.

The film was at 20:45, and while I first wanted spaghetti I also had my mind fixed on Coke in a can or bottle. The first Italian restaurant I find offered neither, so I kept walking. Running low on time, I decided I wanted a hot dog and fries instead. The kebap stands had hot dogs, but not fries. I really wanted fries. With 10 minutes before the film, I finally found an Italian restaurant with fries on the menu. They took longer than I expect, and furthermore cost 5 euros!!! That's, like nearly 8 dollars for a container of fries that would cost less than $2 in the US. Grrr...

Thus far everyone I had dealt with at the kebap stands had been pleasant, but the guy at the stand down the street from the cinema was pretty rude. And the hot dog wasn't that good--it had something funky inside. And furtheremore I didn't have time to finish. And finally, I rushed to the theater to find a long line, and the manager busy. He had earlier agreed to keep the coffee in the office for me, but I could tell he was too busy to be bothered, and the movie was about too start. So I downed it and hoped I would not have to get up to use the restroom too many times.

Back at the hostel, four attractive females in the kitchen area next to the bar... and all four on laptops. Weird.

Dammit, despite the Clarityn I took around noon and the fake Nyquill gelcap I took during the movie, I was still sniffling up a storm.

May 22, 2008

Didn't get as much of a treat from Okie-girl as the morning before. Finally gave up waiting a bit after 8:00 and headed downstairs to checkout and check on train schedules. Went back to reshoot Schuetzenstrasse and buy a German bearista for a fan in Taipei who wanted me to send him one. Then across the street to the hauptbahnhof where I bought a ticket for the local train to Nuremberg. I had not received a reply from the high school student, but I decided it was worth the trip up to visit the three (or four, according to the DM) stores there. I missed the 9:43 train, but by some scheduling weirdness there was an 11:05 train that arrived in Nuremberg not much later. Went back to the hostel to get online again. Bought my Athens ticket. Tried to pay two credit card bills but the stupid sights were down--probably for maintenance since it was the middle of the night whereever the servers are located.

Ah, mystery solved!!! The Koenigstrasse store that was listed as being in Munich is actually in Nuremberg. And that explains why the DM I met told me there are 4 stores in Nuremberg.

Even though I did not exactly plan it ahead of time, I realized after I had bought the ticket to Nuremberg that I could save myself some money on the detour. When I arrived in Nuremberg I confirmed what I had pretty much known, that the single day Bayern ticket would take me to Passau. From Passau I could get to Vienna for 43 euros, as opposed to the nearly 80 euros from either Nuremberg or Munich. It's good that I didn't pay any extra, but Thursday turned out to be a Bavarian religious holiday, and one of the four Nuremberg stores was closed. I didn't mind so much, since Nuremberg will certainly get more stores.

More inconvenient was the fact that the post office was closed, which meant I had to carry that bear around to Vienna and look for a post office there.

Okay, that is just retarted! I needed about 1 second of water, to wash hands and spoon, and the automatic faucet ran for at least 30 seconds--it was still running when I left the bathroom.

Jeez, 3.50 for an Arizona iced tea. That's more than $5, an exorbitant price. But after two weeks of coke and orange juice, I was craving iced tea. Arizona is nothing compared to my beloved Tradewinds, of course, but it was the best I was going to get where I was.

Oh, I forgot to mention that the escalators have motion sensors and turn off when not being used.

By the time I returned to the Nurember Hauptbahnhof I was experiencing major sniffling. Since I had succeeded in arranging a second night at Wombat's in Vienna and booked a Saturday flight to Greece, I thought about going over to the modern art museum for two hours. However, all the sniffling and sneezing made me wonder if I was actually getting sleep, perhaps due to fatigue and sleep depravation, so I decided to get on that next train so I could try and sleep.

Massive train confusion in Passau. I arrived with just minutes to board the train to Vienna. A group of young Indian men were desperate to buy their tickets for that same train. I thought mine was the ICE, but they Indians said it was not, and so did some passengers on board. I hopped off, thinking the ICE would be buy next, and then I looked at the printout from the Reisezentrum and saw that it was the right train! But it was too late, it was moving, and I had to wait nearly 2 hours. The delay worked out, though, because I found a free wi-fi signal and was able to chat with Rebecca for the 2nd time that day. We had chatted twice in the same day maybe once during my trip, if at all. The longer I was gone, the more I wanted to return and see her and assuage my fears that she would forget me because I was gone so long.

While I was sitting there chatting I also had occasion to toy with a pigeon. I don't really care for pigeons, but the white ones are okay because they are more dovelike. Everybody likes doves (doves are basically pigeons). I had no food for it, so I balled up a tiny piece of tissue and tossed it. The pigeon quickly rushed to the speck, picked it up in its beat, and quicly dropped it . I repeated my action, and this time the pigeon rushed to the speck, dipped its head, but did not pick it up. For the next two pieces of tissue, the pigeon rushed towards them but did not even move to peck. Was it learning?

Nuts. Forgot about eating. Realized this about five minutes after the train had left the station. Nearly three hours to Vienna. Hoped there would be food at the station.

Sniffling and sneezing got so bad I had to take a fake Nyquill gelcap.

I'd been wondering for days when passports are checked when traveling by train. When we stopped at Wels Hauptbahnhof, in Austria, I realized I could just get off the train and be in Austria. I asked a couple of passengers, and they said no one would be checking my passport in transiting between EU countries (by train).

Crap. I finally got around to trying to plot stores in Athens. I was so happy when I discovered AutoRoute's coverage extended to Greece. But few of the street names I tried plotted. That's going to make finding stores tough.

Finally reached Vienna around 23:20. I thought about forgoing food since I had a voucher for free all-you-can eat breakfast at Wombat's, but sometimes hunger makes it hard to sleep, and I did not want that on top of being sick, so I bought something light, just a hot dog. The Coke can contained a code for possible free iTunes songs on a site called When I reached Wombat's I had one of the desk staff help me figure out some of the German on the page. Turned out I had to provide a mobile phone number, to which a code was sent to verify the registration. The resulting page was still in German, though, and I could not figure out if I had won a free song or not.

I tried no further, as I was very tired, and just went up to the room and was soon asleep.

BTW, the outlets in Vienna are the same as in Germany.

May 21, 2008

2:00 AM, uploading, e-mailing, and chatting--should be sleeping!!!

Okay, this is why you should always book a mixed dorm room! Sometime during the morning, with the room was light enough to see well, I walked back to my bed from the restroom and noticed that the person sleeping on the bottom bunk of the bed across from mine was female. She was sleeping on her side, not wrapped in her blanket, and her boxer shorts had for some reason slid down enough to reveal some sexy curvature. Wow, I thought--she was not shy at all. I had never seen such a thing. I climbed up into my bed, on the top bunk, and, being a normal human male, could not help but gaze. Then, all of a sudden, her hand reached back to scratch her posterior and in doing so sliding her boxers further down! Holy smokes!!! I must have held my breath as I wondered how far those boxers would go! Well, after nearly sixteen days without sexual release, you can be that it took a lot of self control to avoid expending the energies that I had vowed to preserve until my return to the states.

Incidentally, the above anecdote is an excellent example of a phenomenon described in the memoir Candy Girl by Academy Award-winning screenwriter Diablo Cody. She explains that within the confines of a strip club, a dancer can walk around half-naked and be completely ignored, while on the other hand a woman on the outside showing even a little bit of skin will get a man's complete attention. Towit: the night before at Sexylady there had been scantily-clad dancers sitting and walking around, and onstage they had been topless and even completely nude. Despite this, I had spent very little time at the club in a state of arousal. Curiosity about how things worked in Munich was my main emotion. By contrast, seeing 1-2 inches of that hostel guest's posterior cleavage had me totally like, schwing!

Needless to say, I wasn't able to fall asleep again. Since I had booked a second night at the hostel, I took advantage of this to finally wash my shirt since there was plenty of time for it to dry. I put on the other shirt, and I immediately realized that I had made a mistake going into that club the night before--my shirt was smokey!!! Yuck. I had gotten so used to places where smoking is no longer allowed in clubs that I forgot that t-shirts tend to acquire a cigarette smoke smell very quickly.

No free crappy breakfast this time--they charged 3.50, so I passed. Went over to the store at the Hauptbahnhof and discovered something interesting. AutoRoute had not been able to find a Koenigstrasse in Munich, and when I asked the barista about that store she said she knew nothing of it. Her list of stores omitted Koenigstrasse 71 altogether. Since I could not even find the street in Munich, I had to drop from the store from my list and hope it was a mistake.

I left the store and started looking for an angle for my photo when I was approached by a pair of plain-clothed men. They said something and flashed a badge that said "polizei" among other things. Crap, I thought. This is it, I'm finally headed to Guantanamo Bay, or to Abu Gharib. All they wanted, however, was to check my passport. I wonder how they chose me of all people in the station. Hmmm...

Wow, for some reason, more than two weeks after my landing in Dublin to very mild weather, Munich was really cold. Cold enough for me to see my breath. I avoided putting on my long-sleeved shirt as long as possible because being colder meant sweating less and thus keeping my t-shirt fresher. But when my hands started to get numb, I had to put on that second layer.

Oh, for the love of Pete!!! I finally asked one of the baristas which photo of me had been printed in their newsletter, and when he showed me the article I saw that my name had been written as John "Winter" Smith!!! AARRGHH!!! THAT'S NOT MY NAME!!! Somebody had apparently googled some old article that misstated my name and copied that. Ugh, that is disappointing.

Four stores that morning, and then I headed to Odeonsplatz to meet Nicole. As I neared the store, I heard shouting on a bullhorn and saw a group of people holding signs. Even with my limited German I could easily tell it was a rally against genetically-modified foods. Nearby, plenty of polizei monitored the scene.

She was five minutes late, but what was five minutes after seven years. I had met Nicole when she was a high school exchange student at my cousin's in Westchester County. We seemed to hit it off, and that last night before I headed out I had the urge to knock on Nicole's door in the late hours. Later, when I told her about this via e-mail, she said I should have because she had been unable to sleep. I will always wonder what might have been if I had not chickened out.

Nicole chose a German restaurant, Dolni, where the waitstaff dressed in typical Bavarian garb. After more than a week in the country, I finally had typical German food, something called Mastente mit geriebenen Kartoffelknoedel. Duck, which I found harder to eat than chicken, and some type of potatoe mixed with flour and rolled into a ball.

I asked Nicole about tipping, and she said most middle-class Germans didn't even tip 10-percent. Looked like I had been overtipping for a week.

I received a reply from Wombat's in Vienna saying they were full on Thursday night. What??? still reported an available room!

At the next store I sneezed. The older man standing next to me said "gesundheit".

At the next store the supervisor showed me the newsletter again, and I noticed the part about the Wu-Tang Clan and asked her to translate the sentence. Yep, it said that I am a member of the Wu-Tang Clan, the opposite of what I wrote on my web site. Now all these Germans think I am Wu.

Despite seven 4-oz samples, two nights of short sleep had their effect. I started to crash on the way to the flughafen. Any thoughts of trying to hit a museum during the afternoon went out the window.

A good angle to shoot the airport store unfortunately had the arrival doors in between myself and the store, which meant I had to keep waiting for people to pass, and also for some doofus standing right in front of the store and not moving. After a while I noticed that a lady at the information counter was looking my way and holding a phone. She kept looking my way. It was probably nothing, but rather take chances I walked away and found a bathroom. When I came out I sat down and copied the photos on my SD card over to my laptop, into a folder other than the one named PHOTOS. After a while I shot from a different angle, making sure that none of the uniformed types were around.

A couple interesting things in the bathroom at the airport. First, a button for flushing the toilet with a sign that read "2 X = Stop". Sure enough, pushing the button a second time stopped the water flow. Second, I saw for the first time the fly painted in the urinal that is an example of choice architecture.

Grrr... I took the wrong train to the wrong Perlach station and ended up walking 20-30 minutes to the store. When I arrived, the district manager, who had seen me earlier at Odeonsplatz, said there was another station right around the corner. I don't mind walking, except this was a boring walk. The only thing of interest was that I finally saw a neighborhood with houses that looked somewhat like a suburban neighborhood in America. Okay, that's not really that interesting.

While at the Perlach store I received an e-mail from a high school student in Nurember asking if I could come speak to his class. Since the primary purpose of my existence is to spread my message of world improvement, I must take every opportunity I can to speak to people. I quickly e-mailed back giving him my possibilities and time constraints.

For dinner I chose another of one of those Doener Kebab places. This time I selected what appeared to be a soup made of white beans containing lamb.

The room at Wombat's included a free drink ticket, so I ordered a white wine and sat at a table with the ladies from my room (from Oklahoma) and one other roommate. That was the first time I'd met anyone from Oklahoma while traveling abroad. While I was there I heard one of the girls say "we got really lucky with the people in our room. No weirdos or anything." I couldn't help but he amused, given that I was sitting next to the girl that I'd been gazing at in the morning. On the other hand, staring at a girl's ass isn't really weird, is it. Not staring--that would be weird.

Perhaps she unconsciously knew that I'd almost gotten off to the view of her ass, because she spilled her beer onto my iPod, computer, and even the camera in my bag. Karma?

Oh, when I returned to the hostel I looked around for Rebecca/Becky, but I didn't look too hard. She had said she would e-mail me her itinerary so we could maybe do some walking around in Munich and/or Vienna, but she never did. It never fails to amaze me how most people seem to not care about doing what they say they are going to do.

Big cities I've walked around in in the U.S. like Philly, NYC, and even Baltimore, they all have rats. Munich... mice. I suppose mice might pose just as much of a health risk as rats, but I think they are cuter.

May 20, 2008

I didn't get to sleep until nearly 2:00 AM, so I wanted to sleep 'til 10:00 at least, but at 9:45 I had to give up because of the stupid hammering and other construction noises.

During my shower I noticed that my middle left toenail was getting uncomfortably long. Because of my inability to bring nail scissors on the plane, I had resorted to biting my finger nails. Couldn't do that with my toenails though. Perhaps the famous yoga master Bihlmeyer could do it, but not me. I wasn't sure what I would do when that nail started to push against my shoe and hurt--actually I think it was happening already.

The previous day I'd suffered from a large bump on my left wrist, presumably from a bite. Tuesday was worse. I didn't notice it at first, but as I walked around I felt an uncomfortable itching around my backpack strap. I wondered if it was due to chafing from the strap, but when I got to the Starbucks bathroom and took my shirt off, I saw a huge-ass bump on my left shoulder and three bumps of varying sizes on my right. I still wondered if the strap had anything to do with the bumps, but then it occurred to me that when I was tucked into my blanket, my shoulders were the only place accessible to mosquitoes. And my face actually, and I found myself wondering why I did not have bites there. I was grateful, though, given the size of the bumps on my shoulders and wrist. Had one on my right arm, too. And actually, later I would feel something on my face that might have been a bite. Later still, I would see a definite bump on my forehead. I couldn't figure out why these bumps had taken so long to manifest. The night before I'd been in a hotel with the windows shut. It had been at the Frankfurt hostel where I'd sleep in a room with the windows open, and that's where I must have gotten bit. So why did it take so long for me to swell up? In the back of my mind there was a fear that the bumps were not bites at all, but hives or some type of allergic reaction.

At the second Starbucks of the morning I found out that the inter-company newsletter for Germany had come out, and the supervisor recognize me from the photo of me. I wondered which of the six or seven photos ended up being published.

Holy magnetic monkey biscuits!!! On the seats in the patio outside a restaurant at the hauptbahnhof, I saw a magical and familiar name--"Tradewinds"!!! I rushed inside and with curious glee in my eyes asked a waitress if they carried Tradewinds tea. She pulled out a bottle that looked nothing like the American bottles but was nonetheless Tradewinds. The peach flavor. Oh... my... god! Tradewinds is so hard to find in America, and here it was in Germany, so far from Cincinnati? But all they had was peach, red orange, and lime. No extra sweet. Just as well, because at 2.90 a bottle, or more than $4.50 American, that bottle would have been more than five times what I paid when I bought by the case!

My route to Munich turned out more expensive than I had expected. I reached the hauptbahnhof in time to miss the local train to Freiburg. Based on my delays the previous day, the only way I saw of making it to Freiburg, Stuttgart, and then Munich by the end of the day was to take the fast train, the ICE.

That newsletter was making things a bit easier for me. One of the supervisors at a store in Freiburg knew who I was. He said "You're Winter, from the Wu-Tang Clan." I had to explain that I was not from the Wu-Tang Clan, just a fan.

First thing I did in Stuttgart after visiting the hauptbahnhof store was to check my e-mail for a message from Wombat's, the hostel in Munich. There was a reply, confirming I could check in late, but no specific time! Grrr... that didn't help. I needed to know if the desk closed or not, and at what time!!! I sent back a reply immediately, and fortunately by the time I reached the fourth store I had received a reply saying the desk doesn't close. A good thing, because that meant I could make it out to Leonberg.

Oops!!! Somehow I missed a store in Stuttgart when I was plotting them, probably because there are two on Koenigstrasse. Fortunately I caught it before I left.

What is Stuttgart known for, anyway?

Plenty of activity all along Koenigstrasse. Lots of people, and thus quite a variety of street performers. Also, an art museum, but it closed at 6:00. For some reason I was itching to take a break from Starbucking and see some paintings.

Felt bad at Leonberg, where the supervisor rather insistently offered me a big mug of coffee in addition to the sample cup she had already given me. I had to explain to her that this was my 9th store and I simply could not handle much more coffee.

Speaking of lots coffee, I expected that I might have to wait for the train back to Stuttgart, and then for the train to Munich, and that might be a long time without a restroom. So I violated my principle and dropped 30 cents into the tip plate outside the restroom at the Leo-Center. I forgot to mention that most of the restrooms at the shopping centers in Germany seemed to have a female attendant parked outside with a tip plate. Some, or maybe most of the time, there was a sign indicated that 30 cents should be paid. On principle, if I saw the sign, I did not use the restroom, because paying to use the restroom is an affront to humanity. So is cleaning a restroom, for that matter--that is no proper job for a true human being.

Aw, jeez! Just when I had convinced myself that I could handle not seeing the rest of the Lost finale when it aired and downloading it instead, Damon and Carlton announce on the podcast that ABC will repeat part one in an expanded version!!! Once again, a strong desire to return on the 29th.

The Official Lost Podcast, when hosted by Damon and Carlton, is often hilarious. While exiting the Leo-Center in the revolving door, one of there comments made me burst out laughing, and I think I scared the woman sharing the compartment with me. As soon as we exited she hung a quick right and increased her speed down the ramp.

I used the time I had before the Munich train to look around for food. I settled on this place that had various meats on display along with bread. I saw another man take away a sandwich, a couple of slices on some meat on a baguette. I asked for the same, with some pork that was on a big bone, but instead of getting some slices on bread like I expected, the man gave me the entire chunk of pork. This thing was huge, like what barbarians might be seen eating. I wanted fries, so I got an order of those too, and I only ended up being able to eat about half of a fairly expensive meal.

Okay, the bump on my left wrist is shrinking. That's good. But when I went into the bathroom and counted, I had a whopping nine bumps between my wrist, arms, forehead, neck and shoulders/back. WTF???

Right across from the hauptbahnhof was a table dance club called Sexyland. The cover was cheaper than I'd seen at other clubs, just 7 euros, and the private dances were 30. I decided that was low enough a price to check the place out. While I was deciding though, I checked out the video booths and noticed they took 50 cent pieces, not just 1 and 2-euro coins like all the others I'd seen. I was curious if 50-cents gave as much time as 1-euro in other booths. When I went in, I sorted all the coins from my pocket and put the 50-cent pieces into one stack, and the 1 and 2-euro coins on separate stacks. A couple of minutes later I left, having decided to check the club out. I swear only 30 seconds passed between when I left the booth and walked over to pay my cover, and in that time some thieving motherfucker had already stolen the coins I had forgotten!!! That really pissed me off. When I went into the club and ordered a ginger ale, I had to sit there for a while and think about the sad state of humanity when people just steal your shit. A dancer came up and tried to get me to buy her a drink or get a private dance, but I was still stewing over the theft and told her maybe later.

I was surprised that I was allowed in with the bag, and I felt funny carrying it around. The hostel was nearby, but I did not want to leave it there with all of the money and equipment I was carrying. Later, when I checked into Wombat's, a guest came down to the desk and complained that a mobile phone was missing from his locker. There you go--that's the reason I don't want to leave anything in the room, or trust my bag to anyone!!!

After chatting with several dancers I finally settled on a busty blonde German one who seemed nice enough. I was in Germany, so it made sense to choose German, right? Well, Beatrice might not have been Eastern European, but she could hustle with the best of them, first by insisting that two dances were better than one, and later by trying to get me to buy her a drink and putting up a pronounced frown when I did not, and finally by hitting me up for a tip on top of the dance fee. The dance itself was nothing special, and one element was particularly annoying. At plenty of US clubs that do not allow touching the dancer just tells you to keep your hands at your sides. Her Beatrice had me hold on to a long scarf, which prevented me from using my hands. It was also distracting and made my arms tired after a while. Pushups or not, keeping my arms extended uses different muscles, I imagine.

Another difference about the club was that the dancers on stage seemed to be allowed to choose how much to disrobed. Some hardly disrobed, some went topless, while others went bottomless. The ones that went bottomless, though, kept one hand covering their crotch, something I'd never seen before. I asked if this was a law and was told that it was just to holding something back for the private dance.

My hostel, Wombat's, was just minutes from the club. While sat in the lobby of and made my Vienna and Greece plans and checked e-mail I got to play the role of IT support for some residents--one couldn't figure out the @ key (neither could I, but copy-paste works), another didn't know how to log out of his mail, and the third had a problem Gmail chat (couldn't help him).

May 19, 2008

At 7:45 I was forced to wait before using the restroom. Had I tried to doze next to the door during the wait I might have been okay, but I checked my e-mail. This meant I wasn't able to go back to sleep, so I just showered and packed up my things. Killed time online down in the breakfast room and chatted with Jennifer and the Brazilian, and also a Canadian from London, Ontario, named Rebecca/Becky who had an interest in Scrabble. I e-mailed her the info for the club in London (is it even active, though). Later, she asked where I was going, and when I said Munich she said she would be there too and suggested seeing the city together.

Around 10:00 I finally left to visit the Neue Mainzer store that had been closed, then the store near the opera, and then I went over to reshoot Braubachstrasse with fewer (but not that much fewer) people in the plaza. Nearby was the modern art museum, but it was closed on Mondays. Grrr...


With an hour to kill still before the Cuban restaurant was scheduled to open (at noon), I went back over to those brothels and took another look around. For some reason, it seemed like a switch had been flipped in the past 24 hrs. My relative lack of desire had turned into a full blown lust. I walked around tumescent most of the morning. Despite this, I was still not motivated enough to deal with any of the ladies. What stuck in my mind, however, was the white-haired lady who must have been about 60, maybe even 70. I wasn't sure how to feel about that. Logically, why should a 70-year-old working as a prostitute be viewed any differently than a 20-year-old. So if I was bothered, it must have to do with prejudices about the roles of women at certain ages, prejudices that I know are not valid given recent findings about the favorite activity of the elderly in retirement communities. To assume anything about that elder woman would not be valid.

I went over to Paladar Latino expecting to have to wait, but they were already open. And they turned out to be Colombian, not Cuban. The Cuban restaurant had preceded them--I guess they kept the name??? Anyway, though the tostones and beans and rice were far from the best I'd ever had, they were still good enough to make the wait worthwhile. Yum, yum, yum. My only regret was that my stomach had shrunk because of my light eating, and thus there was no way I could ever finish a bandeja paisa.

Next a short tram ride to Lyonerstrasse, and after that Darmstadt. I used the machine so I could catch the next train, but I really should have found a Reisezentrum so I could get the best price for my total journey.

Oh, it's so expensive, 2.60 euros, that fresh-squeeze orange juice, but it's sooooo good. And I really needed some meat, but that cheesecake, kaesetarte, looked mighty yummy.

Yikes!!! Tried to catch up on some of the sleep I had missed in the morning, and I almost missed my stop at Weinheim. Except... I wasn't at the right stop to begin with!!! The DB (which I now think is Die Bahn, not Deutsch Bahn) gave me a ticket for a place called Weinheim, which is a bit east of Viernheim. I immediately worried that their would not be a Reisezentrum, but there was a small one, and the agent gave me instructions on how to take a tram to Viernheim and said the ticket I had was good.

The Rhein Nekar Zentrum store was the first one during my trip where I felt I needed to duck security for the photo. In general the shopping centers in Ireland, Switzerland, and Germany did not have nearly as much security walking around as American malls. But in this case, the best angle for the photo was very close to the information booth.

As I expected, my detour for Colombian food turned out expensive, because I was not going to reach Karlsruhe in time. But at least the hostel in Stuttgart would check me in late, 'til 2:30 AM--that had been my other fear.

I thought I was very lucky that the Heidelberg stores were open 'til 9:00, which gave me a chance to visit them and not have to backtrack as far from Stuttgart. Unfortunately, I had assumed that I would still be able to get a late train to a city the size of Stuttgart. Not so. I would have had to take a train to Heilbronn and then wait 4 hours. I wasn't going to make Stuttgart in time, so I had to burn those 33 euros. Best I could do was get down to Karlsruhe using my existing day ticket and get a hotel there. According to the DB agent they would be cheaper there than in Heidelberg because the latter is a tourist city.

Although, perhaps I might have made the train in time had I not stopped for spaghetti and eaten in the restaurant. It's just that Heidelberg was so pretty that I almost felt obligated to spend a little more time there. At the restaurant I met a somewhat inebriated Seattleite who insisted that I should get a book deal for my Starbucks project. Sooner or later, somebody's gotta pony up a deal, yo.

AutoRoute showed several hotels right across from the train station, but they all appeared to be big, so I skipped them and kept walking. I would need to walk in that direction anyway, to visit the Starbucks in the morning. Along Ettinger Strasse there was a sign that read "Hotel Barbarossa 300 m". I've never had a good sense of distance, whether in yard or meters--turns out 300 m is a bit of a walk. I was thus rather disappointed when I arrived to find the reception desk closed. Grrr...

I continued down Ettinger a ways until I spotted another hotel. The reception was open, but the price... 108, 93 without breakfast. Yoicks! I continued walking, cursing that DB agent as I did so. She had said hotels would be cheaper in Karlesruhe. Worst advice ever! I could have gotten a room there for 44.

Fortunately, the next hotel I found, Hotel Erbprinzenhof, was only 52 (67 with breakfast). That wasn't so bad, factoring in the fact that I was able to wash my socks and briefs again, and also my shorts, and also factoring in a free tram ticket back to the Hauptbahnhof, plus the price I would have paid to get from Heidelberg to Karlesruhe had I stayed there overnight. In fact, the different between that price and the hostel is Stuttgart was not that big. I needed to rethink my strategy of trying to predict how far I would get when visiting stores by train.

Finally remembered to do a few sets of pushups. After two weeks I had not yet lost my muscle tone, and if I could do some pushups a few times a week I might be okay when I returned from my trip. Of course, during my road trip I would not really have a place to do pushups, except maybe when I got massages, right before showering.

May 18, 2008

Oh, wow. After a breakfast of just toast and jam, I left the hostel around 9:15 and saw that next to the hostel is a table dance club. How had I missed that??? And how can I maintain my claim of having the strongest libido of any human male if I don't notice the nudie club??? But it goes further than that. Turns out, according to myriad blog posts, that the hostel is right in the red light district! That was a first for me, as far as I knew.

Wabbits!!! In a park just a few blocks east on Kaiserstrasse from the hauptbahnhof.

The Starbucks across from the hostel was not, as I feared, closed all day, but it would not open 'til 11:00. The next store was closed all day. I was very glad I had decided to book a second night in Frankfurt instead of trying to rush through on a Sunday.

I was relieved to find Fressgass open at 10:10, and there I confirmed that only two stores would be closed all day--the rest would open. I was even more relieved when they told me of a new store on Kaiserstrasse, which, as it turned out, happened to be the store across from the hostel. The older store on Kaiserstrasse is farther away from the hauptbahnhof, and I had not seen it.

At the next store, across from the stock market (Boersen), I met a barista who had been to school in Grapevine, near Dallas. That was cool, a little reminder of home--she knew exactly where Plano is.

Hmmm... was something going in in Frankfurt, or was it a normal occurrence to see costumed people around the city. The night before I had seen several, including a pair of ladies wearing top hats. This morning, a young woman dressed up like a cat. Well, a dress and a cat face with ears and maybe whiskers.

The older Kaiserstrasse store was in Kaiserplatz, and in the plaza was a map showing nearby tourist attractions. With some time to kill in Frankfurt, I looked for museums. Three were listed, but none was a modern art museum.

At the new Kaiserstrasse I met a Peruvian who was very helpful in finding me directions to the two stores in shopping centers away from the city.

Checked out the place next to the hostel, a sort of erotic supercenter, World of Sex. I inquired about the table dances, and I learned that what the Germans call table dances is just the on-stage dancing. American-style table dances (or lap or couch dances) are called private dances. The attendant did not know the price, but guessed 50 euros and up.

I felt uncomfortable walking around with just 20 euros in my pocket and some coins. I was loathe to use the exchange bureau at the hauptbahnhof, but I knew I would need some fare for trains, and I also had planned dinner at the Cuban restaurant (unsure if they would take a car) and a trip to the movie (unsure if they would take a car). The exchange rate was 1.67, worse than the previous week in Cologne, and much worse that two weeks earlier in Dublin. Dang, I should have bought more euros while the getting was good.

Speaking of expensive, the trip to the Main-Taunus Zentrum cost 8.90! Yoicks!!! And to make matters worse, I lost my ticket.

Couldn't help it. When I saw this place with the name Schultz's Fried Chicken, I had to get me some.

Weirdness on the way to Nordwest Zentrum. The train, the U3, stopped a couple of stops before Zeilweg, where I intended to get off and walk to the Zentrum. The conductor said something that I did not understand, but I should have known it wasn't a coincidence that everybody but me exited the car. I wondered if the car was going to keep moving, and after a few seconds the doors closed the we continued on... or not. A few seconds later the car slowed again, and out the windows I could see many other trains. Not a good sign. Yep, the train slowed to a stop. Crap. I was in the train yard.

I wondered what to do and looked around. I saw what appeared to be a speaker and some buttons. I pushed one and spoke. A voice came through, said something I couldn't understand, and then cut off. I pushed a button to open the doors on the same sign as that speaker, and nothing happened. I then noticed the button on the door on the other side was lit green, so I pushed it, and the doors opened. I stepped out onto the platform and saw the conductor coming towards me, saying something that was presumably "I announced that the train was ending." I said "keine deutsch--do you speak English". He replied something like "nein, wir sind im Deutschland". He asked where I wanted to go, and I replied "Zeilweg." He directed me back towards the station we had left, and from there I was able to take the U1 directly to Nordwest Zentrum.

Next I went to Braubachstrasse, quickly, so I could walk from there to Paladar Latino, the Cuban restaurant. Fearing it would not be open on Sunday I checked the page I had found on the web. It said nothing about being closed on Sunday, but I was misled! AARRGHH!!! I stared intently at the menu. Ah... plantains. So beautiful. My mouth watered, and my disappointment was supreme. The restaurant would not open until noon on Monday. I had planned to have left the city by then. Was it worth staying for the Cuban food, knowing that the delay might affect my ability to visit all the stores between Frankfurt and Stuttgart?

I carried my disappointment, and my dilemma, back towards the city and the kino where the original version of Speed Racer was screening. On the way I passed a building with a sign that read "Erotik Supermarkt". Say what what what? Erotic supermarket? Erotic foods? No, of course not--it was just another sex shop with all sorts of toys, videos, theaters, and video booths. A dime a dozen in Germany, it seemed. Around the corner, though, something differrent. Signs with silouhettes of women. One called Penthouse, another called La Concha. My first though, another table dance club, but that's not what they were. I quickly figured it out because I had read about Pascha in Cologne.

Googling "strip club" and "Cologne" had pulled up Pascha, which is the largest brothel in Europe. It had been curious to see it, but it was a bit of a walk from the nearest Starbucks, and also a 5-euro fee was charged to get in, to discourage Looky-Lous like me. Two nights later, in Dusseldorf, I read that there was another such building very near the hauptbahnhof, but I had felt so drained from the ordeal of missing my flight that I had not the energy to check it out. These two places here in Frankfurt, however, did not seem to charge anything. I walked into the first, up the stairs, and saw down a hallway scantily-clad women sitting on stools at the doors of their apartments. The signs all seemed to read "Thai massage". Same thing on the second floor. Several of the women motioned for me to come in or asked "massage"? When I replied, politely, to one "nein", her response was "warum nein?" I kept walking.

I walked into the other building, Penthouse, to see if there was anything different, and I heard someone speaking Spanish. I got an explanation from a lady about how the place worked. Simple, really. Men just walked the halls and selected a woman of their choice. 30 euros would get about 15 minutes of service. Less than I would have expected, but I found myself wholly uninterested. I don't even think I had a hard-on, despite nearly 13 days without any sexual release. Part of the reason might have been Rebecca. Even though I had permission for a hotel tryst, I don't think I had permission to experiment in a brothel. Or my lack of desire might not have had anything to do with Rebecca at all. I really didn't find any of those women appealing. I suppose if I had walked the halls of enough of the buildings (there were more down the street) I might have found a woman who did not appear skanky, but even that thought did not appeal to me. I just didn't like the setup, this sterile building with women at each door. Reminded me of a prison, perhaps, even though I had read that at the Pascha place in Cologne the women were all independent operators, not working for anybody.

Ultimately the real objects my desire were to find out how Rebecca was doing and talk to her, to see the final two parts of "There's No Place Like Home", and to feast on plantains. Hmmm... plantains. Apparently sex may be easy to find, but plantains... not so much.

Hey, just because it's not American corporate fast food doesn't mean it's not nasty. Really crappy burger and fries from a stand across from the movie theater.

Speed Racer was actually decent. A bit slow at first but better than the reviews indicated. I guess there is not that much of an audience for OV, because doesn't get that much audience, because the auditorium in the kino was tiny. And two chairs in the back were broken--not the most posh of theaters, by far.

May 17, 2008

After 9 1/2 hours, the three socks on the towel rack in the bathroom were not dry, but the one on the door handle was, as were the briefs on the clothes hook in the hall. I wasn't sure what the difference had been, since I had not had the window open (to provide air flow). Still, the washing had been well worth it. The two pairs of briefs smelled fresh enough, as did most of the socks. One was questionable, and I supposed the real test would be to have a woman smell them once I got outside. I wasn't sure, though, if asking a woman to smell your socks would be considered inappropriate in Germany.

My shoes were also holding up well after 11 days. My shirt, which I had not wanted to wash because of wrinkling and because it might not dry, was of course gamy, but it did not seem to radiate odor. Funkiest were the shorts that I had slept in every night, except that night at the hotel. I should have washed the shorts. But since they would be tucked away in my bag and only used for sleeping, their funky odor was not a problem.

Anyway, I was able to pack everything away except the three damp socks, which I tucked into my shirt. Given that I had lost my original towel like this, I worried that I would lose one or more of my socks and kept a would keep a keen eye on them all day.

Most of the DB (Deutsche Bahn) agents had been very polite, but the one I spoke to that morning seemed to be impatient with my inquiry about whether I could go to Wuppertal on the way to Frankfurt. When she finally came back with a price, it was only 2 euros more expensive--not a problem. Though I had missed my flight, at least I got that Wuppertal store out of the way.

AutoRoute had not been able to find anything called Neumarkt in Wuppertal, so upon arriving at the hauptbahnhof I exited and began to ask people. In stark contrast to the past four days in Germany, I encountered no fewer than six or seven people, old and young, male and female, who responded "nein" to my inquiry about English or Neumarkt. I suppose it's possible I ran into six or seven persons in row who did not speak in English, but I had to wonder if they were not perceiving me in the same light as the various homeless youths that I had seen upone exiting the station.

With more than 90 minutes before the train to Frankfurt, I asked the baristas about a place I could get an American or English style breakfast with eggs. Especially eggs. I had not had eggs in TWO WEEKS!!! A barista directed me to Cafe ExtraBlatt just down the street. They had a buffet for 5.95 euros, but it ended in 20 minutes, plsu I had already bought a juice from the Starbucks, so I just ordered three scrabbled eggs to go. 2.95 euros, but the eggs included a piece of bread. And lettuce too, which was weird. I ate a few leaves, until I got to the parts that were warm and soft from touching the eggs (like my leafy vegies cold and crisp). I appreciated the bread, but I did not appreciate not having been given a plastic fork. I returned for one, and I was dismayed to find out they did not have any (or claimed not to). Bastards. That doesn't even make sense, giving a person a to-go order of eggs without plasticware. Did they think I was a barbarian because I ordered in English, or because I ordered to go? As I sat on the steps of the fountain and used my hands to eat the eggs, I felt so ashamed, so humilated. Like those resident of a third-world country you see eating scraps from the ground.

As I returned to the Starbucks to wash my hands, I was stopped by a dark-skinned, short-haired, young man. I understood "fragen", that he had a question, but not what he said after. I replied, "kein Deutsch". He then said something I did not understand at all, except for "arabia" or something like that. I had in the past been confused for an Arab on various occasions, and I inferred he was asking if I spoke Arabic. I replied, "English". He looked like he was struggling with his memory for a second and then said "Have a nice day." The way he said it, their might have been hostility in his voice--I could not be sure.

Back in the Starbucks I set my container of orange juice on a table and went into the bathroom. When I returned, it was gone. Apparently the similarities between Starbucks in America and Starbucks in Gerrmany extends to a policy of overaggressive table bussing. I have complained about this over and over in America, but they never change their policy. I need to get onto and suggest a five-minute rule for throwing away unfinished drinks. I mean, it just makes sense--if an unfinished beverage is set down at a table right next to the bathroom, what could be a logical explanation for that???

Though far from a downpour, I saw the heaviest rain of my trip as I returned to the hauptbahnhof. I considered myself pretty lucky to have hardly experienced rain after 12 days, but it was still tricky to run with my pants threatening to fall down. I definitely needed to either buy new pants, or eat a lot more.

Planning, planning, planning. No matter how much I try to plan, I always forget things. While I managed to buy the ticket to Frankfurt with a stop in Wuppertal, I forgot to ask if my ticket allowed me to get off at the flughafen and from their got to the bahnhof. Of course, at the time I had not yet plotted all the stores in Hessen and did not know there was one at the flughafen, but I could have guessed this. Fortunately, on the train I asked the ticket taker about this, and he confirmed that I could indeed get off at the flughafen and then take the next train to the hauptbahnhof.

I did remember, however, to look ahead from Hessen to see what other region were nearby. I already knew Munich was not far, but there was a region/state before that, Baden-Wurttenburg.

Dude, Mannheim is weird. The city center, an area inside a ring road, appears to have not so much street names as coordinates. I can't even explain it. Google it.

Ahhhh. The Deutsche Bahn "IC" train stands for "Inter-City". Seems strange to me, since that is an acronym of an English term. City in German is "stadt". Except... I remember seeing the word "city" on signs in the bahnhofs that appeared to be in German. Is the word "city" used in German?

Again with the planning failure. Since I had not plotted the stores in Hessen before buying the ticket to Frankfurt, I had failed to realize that Wiesbaden was on the way. As we neared Frankfurt, I started watching "There's No Place Like Home" again (because it was fucking awesome), and then the train stopped and the conductor announced something about Mainz. I had a sudden flash of insight, and I looked at AutoRoute and saw a place named Mayence a ways south of Wiesbaden. I asked a pair of students if that is where we were. Though my AutoRoute is in French, and the spelling is different, they confirmed I was in Mainz. I quickly hopped off the train, a bit disoriented. I was thinking very quickly. Shit, I didn't even know if I could get directly from Mainz to Wiesbaden. A DB agent passed by, and I was about to ask him when he was beckoned by another agent, mildly frantic about something. He walked quickly, but I kept up and managed to get my question in. He kept walking but had the presence of mind to respond that I could indeed get to Wiesbaden, and e even gave me the correct platform number. Okay, as I type this at the Lilien Carre Starbucks the ground feels like it's moving. That can't be good. Next was to make sure I had gotten everything before the train left again. Oh, how I was repeatedly grateful during the trip that I was traveling light. As long as I had my packback and my long-sleeved shirt wrapped around my waist, I was good. Still, I had to hunt a bit, in a panic, for my iPod, which I had quickly tossed into the wrong pouch of the backpack (instead of putting it in my pocket where it usually is). Finally, I had to find the ReiseZentrum--what the fuck, I still feel a shaking motion--and confirm that I could use my ticket to get to Wiesbaden and then onto Frankfurt from there.

Sweet! After 12 days I finally found a Spanish restaurant that was open for business. Lentil soup with sausage (chorizo). Yummy, yummy, but I would have liked rice. I think it has been my experience that rice is not that common with Spanish dishes unless it's paella.

Next stop, the Frankfurt Flughafen, where a pair of baristas wanted to be photographed, so I figured why not.

I exited the airport, and as soon as I went up to Gleis 1, a train appeared. I wasn't sure if I was actually going to the city, so I hoped on and looked around for somebody to ask. A pair of youths sitting towards the back motioned towards me, and one spoke in accented English, something like "over here man". I smelled marijuana. I quickly asked "where is this train going". "To Frankfurt, man", the goateed youth confirmed. I did not sit back with them, and then went back to their conversation and chuckling.

At the next stop, the one for the station, a group of people wearing black and red striped shirts and jerseys entered the train chanting. I guessed a football game must have just ended. They continued to chant for the duration of the trip, but they did not tear up the train. I guess their team won.

At the Starbucks in the Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof I met a barista from Colombia. I remembered to ask about any Colombian restaurants. He said there had been one, but it closed. However, there was a Cuban one, he said. He did not remember the name, but googling "cuban restaurant frankfurt" pulled it up right away, and I salivated at the prospect of finally having plaintains after some two weeks without.

The Frankfurt Hostel was the liveliest of the six I had stayed in up that point. The reception room/kitchen was packed with guests, and loud music was playing. For the first time, there was a line to check in. While I waited I plugged in my laptop and asked a young woman about wi-fi. She gave me the code, and then she asked for help getting connected. I succeeded in getting her online, to which she responded with a hug. A few minutes later, we had friended each other on Facebook.

A couple of other ladies, Alayne's roommates, were also sitting at the table. One was Brazilian. The other, American, from Ohio. When I heard this I immediately blamed her for the last four years of Bush. I don't think she appreciated that.

Before she left the table, Alayne revealed she had not showered in 36 hours. I didn't feel the need to worry so much, then, about whether my shirt had smelled gamey when she hugged me.

Every since missing my flight my mind had been preoccupied with planning my next moves. It was not until I finally checked into the hostel and chilled out in the lounge that I was able to relax my mind. I felt most relaxed by the fact that I no longer had any plane schedules to keep. Provided I found accomodations each night, I was free to spend as much time as I wanted in any given city. Not having to rush felt really good.

The only downside of an indefinite trip was that I did not know when I would next see Rebecca. Though all my rushing and planning usually kept me from missing her too bad, with my mind relaxed at the hostel I started missing her again. And worrying, too whether she was going to lose interest in me because of the weeks and/or months apart. If we had been dating for months prior to my trip, I would not have been so worried. But since everything had happened so quickly over a few weeks time, I worried that her feelings would change just as quickly. I also worried that the very process of blogging my worries would change her feelings. Oy vey.

One really cool thing about the hostel--free spaghetti on Saturday night. One really uncool thing--the fucking door handles!!! Some kind of weird system that involved pushing a button, putting my key card next to the button until the light turned green, then turning the button and pushing the handle. Took me fucking FOREVER to get into my room!!! Whoever designed that door needs a swift kick in the pants, yo.

May 16, 2008

In the wee hours a group (at least two, maybe more) of girls speaking German came into the hostel talking rather loudly and presumably annoying the hell out of everybody.

6:45, no torrent that looked good.

Around 7:30, a found a torrent that looked good and started downloading.

Around 8:45 I got up, shaved, and showered. I checked for a torrent with more seeds and noticed that the one I was downloading had some comments. Uh-oh. Yep, as I feared, the comments said the torrent was fake! I searched around on google and found a different site and started that downloaded, and then after breakfast (toast and tea) I started another download. I wasn't getting a green smiley though, and the download speed was awful despite a 54 Mbps connection (according to the wi-fi status icon).

By the time I had to check out at 11:00, only 45% of the show had downloaded in two hours--awful. But at least that cut down on how much I had to spend at the Starbucks at 18 cents a minute.

Too me 58 minutes to finish the download at Starbucks, 10.44. At some point I realized it would have been much cheaper to download via iTunes, though the quality was poorer (the last time I tried it). Still, considering that I did not end up watching the episode right away, iTunes would have been the smarter bet. On the other hand, who gives a fuck about $10. I paid that much for Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay, and Lost is infinitely more entertaining (no to mention though-provoking, a quality that stupid comedies lack).

At some point during the morning I realized that I had forgotten to plot a store, Wuppertal. That really sucked, because it was in an inconvenient direction. I did not think I would have time to finish Duesseldorf, go to Wuppertal, and then to Duisburg and then the airport. Oh, well, I thought. 39 out of 40 ain't bad. Plus, at the Grand Bateau store I met the district manager for the area, and in our conversation he said there would be a new store in Wuppertal anyway. Given the growth rate in Germany, I'd be back in Nordrhein-Westfalen within 3-5 years.

The Rhine.

Near the Lueg Alle store was an Italian restaurant. Spaghetti bolognese was not on the menu, but the chef said he would make it. The waiter, though--I don't think he liked me. He kept giving me looks, and the only reason I could guess was my use of the laptop and headphones to watch Lost. For that specific reason I had asked to sit inside, where I was less conspicuous. When I finally finished and left, the waiter's attitude seemed quite dismissive.


Who the fuck woulda known that there are two fucking airports in fucking small-ass Duessel-fucking-dorf. FUCK!!! My ticket on RyanAir was not from DUS, but rather NRN, or Niederrhein, in a town called Weeze, 80 km from DUS. No way was I going to make it in time, so I had effectively burned $70!!! Okay, fine, I burned $450 on an unnecessary camera--I didn't so much care about the $70. I cared more about the fact that it was Friday and I could not book a hostel for the same via would have call each hostel myself. And with its being Friday, chances were I would not find a room. I thought about renting a car one-way somewhere, but I worried that the polizei would hassle me if I slept in the car.

As if I hadn't been annoying enough, I learned one of the the two Starbucks at DUS was behind security. Furthermore, the Starbucks did not have T-Mobile wi-fi!

I went downstairs and looked at the departure board and considered my options. On a whim I inquired into a ticket on Emirates to Dubai, but I considered 500+ euros too expensive. There were AirBerlin posters all over advertising cheap rates, but these were all with advance purchase. The cheapest available last minute was to Munich, for 150 euros. Renting a car would cost 70 euros.

While walking around a noticed a counter for the Bundespolizei, and I asked an officer about sleeping in the car. He replied that he had not heard of a case against sleeping in a car, but that it was really not his jurisdiction--the Budespolizei was more concerned with customs and immigration.

I wanted to leave for the train station right away so I could return, if necessary, before the rental counters closed, but my laptop was at 68% power. I wanted it at full power in case I needed it.

As I considered my options, I bore in mind Rebecca's blog entry about her trip to Montreal. From her entry it seemed like her trip had been extremely unprepared, and as a result she had incurred additional expenses and hassle. Having gotten the airport wrong, I was well into the land of unpreparedness, and I did not want to make it worse by flying into a city where sleeping at the airport would not be allowed and then be unable to find a room. That was the big problem, finding a place to sleep, really. I was sure that I could take a train to nearby Frankfurt without paying too much, but I did not consider the bahnhof a safe place to spend the night. Too many homeless nearby--I would certainly be hassled for sleeping. I'd be better off at the airport, on a long train trip, or in a car, no matter how uncomfortable.

On the bright side, the first part of "There's No Place Like Home" absolutely rocked!!! I mean it fucking rocked!!! Its degree of rocktitude cannot be overstated. Stupid as it might seem to other people, it might totally be worth it to end my trip on the 29th so I could return to the U.S. and watch the season finale when it airs, and in HD.

I walked around and debated, walked around and debated, and I finally decided to head back to the Hauptbahnhof to see about a train to Frankfurt, hoping that if it took many hours I could sleep. No trains that night that I could tell, and the Reisenzentrum was closed. I was able to log on, though, and pull up a list of hotels in Duesseldorf with prices starting at 30 euros. I also had AutoRoute show me the hotels in the area, and I saw many. Rather than plotting out the cheapest hotels and spending time walking there, I just inquired at the first hotel I saw, the Hotel Bismarck. A room was only 56.50 euros. Still expensive when converted to dollars, but less expensive than I expected, so I stayed.

As I had been preparing for my trip, Rebecca had suggested buying wool socks, saying they were easy to wash in a sink. I did not have the time or knowledge to seek out wool socks, but I took her advice about washing them in the sink anyway. By washing the socks and briefs, I was able to save around 5 euros, thus bringing the price of the hotel down to 51.50.

May 15, 2008

Don't know if getting up earlier than 8:45 would have made a difference. I assumed that since all those students had stayed up pretty late, that they would also be getting up late, but maybe they were on a schedule. Either way, the shower had no hot water. I hate showering without hot water. On top of this, the shower stalls had no doors or curtains, and there was no knob to turn the water on. Instead, there was a button that provided a few seconds of water before turning off. Now that is annoying. I'm all down with saving water and all, but it's just a basic human right to be able to relax as the hot water flows over you.

At a bakery on the way to Theaterplatz I picked up something called a "quark"??? Even after eating it, I still wasn't sure what it had besides bread and sugar.

At Essen I heard a two persons behind the counter speaking English, and I surmised they were from some central office. In fact, one was from London, and I took the opportunity to ask her about licensed stores in the UK. She said she would e-mail someone at the Support Center for me.

At the next store, in a bookstore, I ran into a barista that had also been at Theaterplatz--he was killing time before his shift. He wanted a photo for some newsletter, and one of the next locations, both in the Limbecker Platz mall, a barista also wanted a photo for the newsletter. And at the other location, a photo just for whatever. Three photographs in the same city, the most of my trip to that point.

I had assumed I a day pass would be the best way to get to Rhein Ruhr Zentrum, Duisburg, Oberhauser, and Duesseldorf, but the agent at the reisezentrum advised that it would be cheaper to buy separate tickets.

Okay, how the fuck did that happen??? It seemed to be taking a long time to reach the Rhein Ruhr Zentrum stop, so I checked the subway map and discovered I had missed it several stations before!!!

Another photo at Rhein Ruhr Zentrum,and also quite a bit of generosity. As I left and approached the outside doors, I turned to see that a barista had chased me all the way from the Starbucks to give me a pastry, a "quark grapefruit XXX loaf".

Woolworth in Germany??? Saw one in Muenster, and now in Mulheim an der Ruhr.


Starbucks looks to expand presence in Irish market

Yet another photo, in Oberhausen, making it the 6th of the day, and the fourth for the newsletter. I expected that the next edition of that newsletter would be the "All-Winter" issue.

Dang it. Because of my late arrival at the hostel in Essen, and because the attendant did not speak English, I had not asked about a towel but instead used my own in the morning. I carried it around all day tucked into my shirt, and I finally managed to lose it on the way to Oberhausen. The cheapest one I found at the mall, in a place called Galeria Kaufhaus, was 6 euros, or more than $9. Heck of a price compared to what I would have paid at Wal-Mart.

With my flight to London imminent, I finally got around to checking the State Department's page for Lebanon and learned that "The U.S. Embassy has suspended non-immigrant visa services as of Monday, May 12, 2008." I assume this means that I will not be able to get a visa if I were to fly into Beirut.

DANG IT!!! I tried to rush from the platform to the Starbucks in the Duisburg Hauptbahnhoff, but the supervisor had heard of Starbucking, so I asked her about it. Those extra 30 seconds I wasted cost me the 20:24 train to Duesseldorf! The next one arrived just 11 minutes later, but I foolishly forgot to make note of the gleis. It wasn't gleis 4, but gleis 5, so I missed that one. Had I not realized my error, I would have missed the 20:52 train, on gleis 5, as well!

The walk to Duesseldorf Backpackers only took about 10 minutes, not the 15 the attendant has estimated. Believe you me that as soon as I punched in the door code and entered, the first thing I did was look for a wi-fi connection so I could download Lost in the morning. But no dice. If it came down in 60 minutes via T-Mobile at Starbucks, that would cost me $10. I would pay it, of course, to watch Lost, but I preferred to find a free connection.

Dang, no laundry facilities. If I was going to live out of a car in England for a week, doing laundry would be nice.

Down the block and decided to finally try one of the Arab restaurants. At least I assume it was Arab because of the sign that read "kebab", which I had seen all over Germany, often in combination with "doner" (o has umlaut). When a man entered and said "salaam au lacum", that confirmed the Arab part. Seeing rice through the window had prompted me to go in, and I further saw some type of stew with vegetables that resembled something my grandmother might have cooked. The cook/owner/attendant knew enough English to say it was chicken. Along with, I selected a canned iced tea, not sure if the brand was Pfirsich or Quick Vit. Not horrible, but certainly no Tradewinds.

Incidentally, the hostel was the second, or maybe third, I had seen with huge-ass pillows. They were at least twice the width of what I consider to be "normal" pillows. And too soft--in Essen I had to fold mine to give my head enough support.

May 14, 2008

Around the wee hours I started waking up with my mouth really dry, drier than it had been up to that point during the trip. No matter how much I drank when I went to the bathroom, my mouth was still dry the next time I awoke.

Still had no idea where to find a good egg breakfast, but I did manage to find something akin to a scone or biscuit. It was called a schoko-wuppi, and it contained chocolate chips. Chocolate for breakfast is not really my thing, but I did not see a plain wuppi nor a blueberry one.

At the Reisezentrum I remembered to ask about a ticket to Aachen and then to Duesseldorf, and the agent said that a day pass was actually cheaper. Only 25.50, I would be able to travel throughout Nordrhein-Westfalen until 3:00 AM. That would change my itinerary for the day--I needed to get to as many stores outside Duesseldorf and Essen as I could.

Fuck you, Apple! Sometimes, but not all times, when I synchronize my iPod, its time is reset to some time that has nothing to do with the actual time, nor with the time set on my computer. I have not been able to detect a pattern, and I find no references in the documentation to the time. Knowing the time is pretty critical for my travels, so this is more than a minor inconvenience.

The Starbucks in Aachen was in some place called the Markt, and I had to ask quite a few people how to get there from the hauptbahnhof. For grins, I asked in German instead of trying for English. I'm sure my accent and grammar sucked, but my inquiries of "entschuldigung, kennen sie, wo is markt?" were understood. Despite my horrible accent and grammar, each person I asked assumed I spoke German and responded in kind, and quickly. After asking the same thing of various people along the way, I was able to isolate enough words to make sense of the directions.

A couple of days earlier a Scrabbler had posted to his LiveJournal that he had arrived in Hong Kong, and the first thing he ate... McDonald's. I commented that I would never eat at McDonald's overseas (or in the U.S. for that matter) no matter how hungry. I wasn't singling out McDonald's--I meant any American chain restaurant. I'm not going overseas to eat from the same places I could back the the States. I did, however, understand where Jesse was coming from. I expend so much energy trying to find and reach all these Starbucks that I rarely have the energy to go hunting for something special to eat. I still won't go into McDonald's, or the like, but I will give up and go for a burger, something I rarely eat in America. I rather like cheeseburgers, actually--I just don't eat them very much. Nothing special about the cheeseburger from a small shop in Aachen, but for the second time the container of fries included one fry stuck with a tiny fork. What's that about?

Ah, nuts! I have a memory of going into one of these Starbucks in Germany and seeing a slide, for the kids, from a second floor to the bottom floor. Except I'm not sure the memory is real. That might have been a dream last night, but I'm not 100% sure that is wasn't real.

Received a couple of pointers about German from an attractive American at the Starbucks. Specifically, the difference between "kennen" and "wissen", and the meaning of "am". During our chat she said there was a contemporary art museum in town, and I quickly considered going, but then I remembered that I needed to make the best use of my day pass.

Wow, it took three hours to get from Aachen to Dortmund via the local train, and then more time to find the markt. By 4:30 I had only visited two stores.

At the hauptbahnhof I decided to experiment and tried something called a "waffel am stiel". Essentially, a waffle on a stick. The Germans did not eat this with syrupt, but perhaps with powdered sugar or caramel (stroop). When I got outside, the sugar blew all over my shirt, and I did not notice this until after speaking to the two attractive young blondes who were trying to explain directions to the markt in German before they noticed my blank looks and switched to English.

Outside the Dortmund store I polizei van passed, and I noticed it bore the same colors as the vehicles in Bonn and Koln. I wondered whether these belonged to a country-wide police organization, or regional?

From Dortmund I went to Bochum, thinking that from there I could head directly to Muenster. Unfortunately, the recommendation from the travel agent was to take a train back thru Dortmund to Hamm and change there. Had I known this, I could have, I think, done Bochum first, then Dortmund, then Muenster. Bah.

On the way to Hamm I finally noticed windmills for power generation. I had previously heard that Germany generates a large amount of electricity from air power, so it seems I should have seen more.

In the U.S. I rarely eat Asian food unless I am with a group. I was craving rice, however, and the images on the advertisement were tantalizing, so I used my extra time in Muenster to order from the Asia House. The waiter did not speak English, but, as seems typical of Asian restaurants, the menu was present with photos.

Wow, finally, a free wi-fi connection that worked!!!

On the way to Essen a uniformed man said something to me. I did not understand and showed him my ticket. He said no, and it was clear he wanted something else. When he saw the puzzlement on my face, he said "passport". He proceeded to look at mine, and then to ask the same thing of various other passengers. There were only a few in my car, and I'm not 100% sure, but I think he might have skipped one or two. Not sure if that was random, profiling, or what. I had to assume, of course, that this is legal everywhere in the world. I certainly wasn't going to protest. only listed one hostel for Essen, Goalfever, which was located quite a distance from the hauptbahnhof. The train to Essen was delayed, and I must have just missed the subway train, beause I had to wait until around 10:15 for the next one. Trains must start shutting down early in Essen, because that train stopped at Berlinerplatz, and I had to wait another 8 minutes for one that went farther. I did not quite understand the subway map and was unsure whether the U17 would stop near the hostel or deviate in a different direction, so I got off at a stop that was really far from the hostel. Of course there were stops closer, but that had been unclear to me. The upshot of all the time spent walking was that I did not reach the hostel 'til 11:13, by which time the desk attendant had already left.

The attendant who was there did not speak German, so he walked me outside to a group of students, one of whom was able to translate. He explained that the desk closed at 11:00 and the attendant did not have the authority to check me in. However, the student, Joe, said that they had an extra bed in their room, and that if I waited until the attendant left, they could let me sleep in the room. Joe had me wait at the restaurant next to the hostel. A few minutes later, he found me and said the attendant had located my reservation. Whew!

That could have been my worst emergency to that point. The faux camera emergency was bad, but at least money would have been able to fix that. Where the Goalfever hostel was located was far from town, and with the trains running on a delayed schedule, assuming they still ran, I would have taken me a while to get back into the city to find a hotel. And if I didn't, it would have been more dangerous to try and sleep in the street in the city center instead of farther out.

Don't know if he was part of the student group, but one of the guests sure knew how to party. I went into the bathroom at the end of the hall and saw a tall blonde student standing in front of the mirror. He was wearing only boxers and looked as if he had just come out of the shower... and he was holding a beer. That's some hardcore drinking, if you even have to take your beer into the bathroom.

May 13, 2008

Finally got up earlier, around 8:30, and managed to leave the hostel by 9:00 and visit the Zuelpicher Platz store just a few minutes away. Across the intersection was a store that advertised "bio fur alle". I surmised that "bio" refers to organic food, and later I would notice bio sections in other supermarkets.

Hohenstaufenring, and other main thoroughfares, I think, had bicycle lanes that were on the sidewalk, but specially designated. Safer than having the lanes in the roadway with the cars, of course. But I kept forgetting about the lanes and gravitated towards walking in them, much to the chagrin of cyclists who shouted (with all German politeness) at me.

Okay, I've seen lots of homeless all over the world, but this was a new one on me. Along Hohenstaufenring, a pair of homeless sleeping in the area between the pedestrian walkway and the bicycle lanes, where the benches and bicycle locks were. The one who appeared to be a woman was completely covered up in blankets, but the man had a good portion of his ass exposed. I thought the German police were strict on people sleeping in public, based on what I saw in The Bourne Identity. Yes, you know the scene, the dramatic one in which Matt Damon goes from tired and unsure of himself to taking down two polizei in an instant. Speaking of polizei, they were everpresent in their brightly colored (blue/green/grey) cars. I saw them monitoring the squares in Bonn, and I saw them driving everywhere in Cologne.

Something else unusual, at several Starbucks. First, a dispenser in the toilet stall for some type of substance used to clean off the toilet seat (along with neat picture instructions showing how). Also in the bathroom, a low-level light resembling a blacklight at a club, except it didn't make the fuzz on my t-shirt glow. Presumably for energy savings.

The three remaining Starbucks in Cologne came easy. Getting back to Bonn was only moderately more difficult. Once I arrived, however, I could not figure out how to get to the Starbucks by bus or tram. I did not want to risk getting bad directions, so I decided to just hoof it. Took a while to find the bridge even (Kennedybrucke), and the walk to the T-Mobile campus (where the Starbucks is) was very long. Needless to say, there were two buses that stopped right in front--wish I had known.

Walked around Bonn again looking for food, and was pleased to find spaghetti bolognese at only 6 euros. Compared to Swiss prices, that was a bargain.

The first train to Duesseldorf was an IC, and the ticket taker said my ticket was not valid. The next train was probably the one I wanted, but I was unsure, and at the last minute I got off. Finally, I took a 4:01 RE (Rheinland Express) train and hoped for the best.

Finally tried the orange juice at the German stores, which I assumed is organic from the name, "bio-fruchtsaft". Brand name, I think, is "VitaVerde". Good, but I couldn't immediately decided if it was better than Naked Juice. Definitely not better than the Happy Valley juice they used to have at Canadian stores (but removed a few months ago).

Might just have been a coincidence, but after a day of checking at nearly every Starbucks I visited, plus other scattered locations, I had not succeeded in finding a single unsecured wi-fi network that I could connect to. Are the Germans that much more security-conscious.

A few stores into my Duesseldorf run I meet a supervisor who is sweating a lot. I ask, jokingly, if he has been running. He replies that he is sick. Oh, crap. When he shakes my hand, I don't want to be rude, but I immediately go downstairs to the bathroom to wash. On the way I make a concerted effort to remember not to stick my finger in my nose and not to rub my face, two activities that are near and dear to me.

Managed six stores in Duesseldorf by 8:00 PM, and I was fine with that. On the way to that last store I had passed a massage place with a sign saying it was open 'til 10:00, and as sore as I was after a week of flying, walking, and riding around I decided I really did not want to wait until I returned to America so I could get a better price. Turned out not to be that expensive, 45 euros, and the oddly-named place (Max Pearl) had one therapist, Thai, who spoke English and agreed to accept her tip in dollars, which was important to me because the place did not take credit cards and I wanted to ensure I had enough euros for the train back to Koln.

As it turned out, I was able to buy a ticket from an agent and use my card at the hauptbahnhoff, so my cash situation was still fine. The slower, cheaper train wasn't for 50 minutes, and I was just a bit hungry, so I went for a crepe stand outside. I really love crepes, so I am not sure why I could only eat half. Part of the reason was too much nutella, I think. I experienced an unpleasant sugar rush I think. I was reminded of how I had gotten sick the previous Sunday after the crepe in Silver Spring, but I have no good reason to suspect the crepe, awful as it was, had anything to do with my illness.

Arrived back at the hostel pretty late, and after some uploading in the lobby I went up to the room. As soon as I entered the smaller room I noticed a pair of sneakers outside on the windowsill, and a pair of socks too. And an odor. A powerful odor. Their owner, a Canadian, explained that the shoes were stinky because they (he and the woman in the lower bunk?) been traveling for a month. Wow, I thought--even with all that walking, how could shoes smell that bad? Since I would be traveling a long time, I suddenly became concerned about my shoes. So far my technique of rotating the two pairs of socks had kept either pair from becoming really smelly, but was I risking that my shoes would start to smell over time? I had arrived at the hostel too late to do laundry, but I needed to think about finally doing some in Essen.

May 12, 2008

I had expected to wake up natural sometime around 8:00 AM, because of my trouble sleeping, in part because of that stupid American student group that had arrived jetlagged and thus stayed up for hours, I did not wake up until 8:56. I managed to pack in 15 minutes, but I still was slave to the bus and train schedules to get to the airport.

Good thing I did not cut it any closer, because of all the flights I had taken since my name change to "Winter", except maybe the one to Hong Kong, the Germanwings agent took the longest to decide that it was okay to let me board. She kept asking me why I only had one name, and asking if the passport was a mistake. She did not seem to understand the idea of going to court and changing my name. She asked "why didn't they give you another name", unclear on the fact that I had chosen the name.

Arrived in Cologne (Koln), cleared passport control, and then looked at my map. No stores at the airport, which was between Cologne and Bonn. It seemed to make sense to get Bonn out of the way, so I asked a young woman for advice, and she said it was better to take a train than bus to Bonn. I found the trains and learned that there was no direct train to Bonn. One to nearby Bonn Beulen was leaving in a few minutes, and I could not figure out how to get a ticket in time. At the agent's advice, I went out to find the buses, and I saw one leaving for the Bonn hauptbahnhoff just as I arrived.

The next bus was listed as arriving in 30 minutes. When it did not appear, I wondered what had become of the fabled German precision. After 10 minutes though, I was sure that I must have misread the schedule or something. The bus finally did arrive a full hour later, and when I reached Bonn and located the Starbucks I found out why--I had happened to fly in on a holiday. This was bad because of a second thing I discovered--the plug adaptor did not fit, contrary to what I had been told at the airport shop in Zurich! And because it was a holiday, I would not be able to find any shops in town where I could buy one.

Given how much I depended on my laptop, the situation with the adaptor was probably the worst problem I faced, but there was another. The third store in Bonn was in the T-Mobile building and thus not open on the holday. AARRGHH!!! According to the manager at Muensterplatz, it would cost me 12 euros round-trip to get from Cologne to Bonn on Tuesday. Grrr...

The final "inconvenience" caused by the holiday was that most of the restaurants appeared to be closed. There were plenty of cafes open, but since I had eaten nothing but a roll and an apple, I needed some serious food. Couldn't find it, though, in the area around the Starbucks, so I popped into a shop called "Patat Store" that specialized in "pomme", french fries. I spotted a plate that included pomme, getranke, and something called a frikalen (sp?) that looked like a long sausage fried in batter. I asked the cashier, and she explained that it contained horse, cow, and pig meat. As far as I could tell, that was my first time ever eating horse. With all the reports I had heard in recent days about the injury and euthanasia of the filly Eight Bells, I could not help but wonder if I was consuming part of that unlucky racehorse with my meal.

My laptop had only 36% power remaining, and I had too much writing and online research and planning to do to that day to wait until morning, so I returned to the airport in the hope of finding an adaptor. I was rather chagrined, then, to find that none of the shops available landside had the correct adaptor. I had no choice but to take the train into town and try to visit several Starbucks by asking the baristas for directions. When I arrived at the hauptbahnhoff, I saw the shops and realized that it would make sense for some shop there to carry an adaptor. Sure enough, the first shop I saw with electronics had one, and I was set.

Given that T-Mobile is a German company, it was not surprising to find T-Mobile wi-fi at the Starbucks in Cologne. Of course the roaming charges for American subscribers were no gift--1.50 euros per 10 minutes. Still, it was better to have it than not.

Given that religion has arguably caused more suffering than any other human institution, I debated whether to glamorize this cathedral with a photograph. I finally decided that pretending the enemy does not exist is not an effective way of defeating it.

For the second or third time I had to turn down a gift of a city mug because I did not want to carry it around in my backpack. That was the downside of traveling light, and it was a little disappointing, because it would have been nice to add to my collection of city mugs.

Germany was no different than Switzerland in terms of open sexuality. I passed many erotic shops/cinemas on the way to the various Starbucks. I checked a couple out, and, unlike the ones in Zurich, these did not charge admission to access the video booths. The booths seemed expensive, however, taking one or two euro coins. For research purposes only, I investigated how much time was given per euro, and I paid no mind at all to the naked images. Really, I didn't! Seemed to be less than a minute per euro--combined with the exchange rate, definitely expensive.

The Meininger City Hotel was conveniently located near Rudolfplatz and the three remaining stores I needed to visit in Cologne. The place seemed more lively than the hostel in Zurich, but I needed to hole up in my room and do some serious research. I was reaching the end of the pre-planned portion of my trip and needed to make further plans. My most immediate concern, after the second night in Cologne, I did not have a room lined up. I had intended to stay in Dusseldorf for two nights before flying out, but I had not actually reserved the room. I also needed to make sure that cars were available at Stansted in London when I arrived.

The room itself had eight beds, but four were in a separate subroom so I had privacy and quiet up until I went to bed. The other three dormmates did not arrive until late. In the other room was not a backpacker, but rather a German waiting for his apartment to be finished. He had apparently been in the room a while and made himself at home--I saw more lotions and facial care products on the bathroom shelves than I had ever seen during my many stays in hostels.

May 11, 2008

Anticipating some Starbucks would close earlier on Sunday, I had intended to start out earlier, but in the end I just couldn't drag myself out of bed. I rationalized my laziness on the grounds of not wanting to weaken my immune system during a long trip.

After 5 1/2 days, I decided briefs #1 had finally reached the point where I had to change them. It occurred to me that I should have been doing the same thing I was doing with my socks, alternating days and giving them time to air. That might have extended their overall usability. After 5 1/2 days of straight use, however, I wasn't sure if those first briefs could be brought back from the dead.

I thought the ZVV ticket machine had cheated me of my change until I realized that the 1/2 Fr coin (smallest of the set) was not, as I had foolishly imagined, half of 1/100 of one franc, but rather the equivalent of a 50-cent piece.

Yoicks! The two-day ticket to Geneva stopping in Aarau, Bern, and Lausanne turned out to be way more expensive than I had expected, 160 francs. Assuming I did not have time to travel to Saint-Gall, the Swiss portion of my trip was still costing around $600.

Something weird about my body. Because of all the walking and reduced caloric intake, it appeared that my waist was slimming down, based on how much my pants tended to slip down day by day. Unfortunately, little or none of the fat around my stomach seemed to be affected. I still carried around an unsightly protruding gut. Ugh.

No trouble in Aarau, finding the Starbucks--I only needed directions from two persons--and I was able to return to the bahnhof in time for the direct train to Bern. In Bern I found myself completely disoriented as I exited the bahnhof, and I took a roundabout way to the Starbucks. The store was very pretty, and the staff had many questions about my project, so I dawdled, but I luckily managed to make the 13:04 train, and even pick up a pastry, with just minutes to spare.

Upon seeing some French on the signs in Berne, I thought that might have been the start of what I had heard referred to as "French Switzerland". Bern turned out to be very German, however. Not so Lausanne, where all could see were signs in French. It might have been my imagination, but even the streets and buildings seemed to remind me more of my visits to France.

At the first Starbucks I logged on to try and find out what time the stores in Geneva closed. The first available outlet I saw was not near a table, so I put my computer atop a partition next to some seating. After a few minutes, my research was disrupted when I noticed that the couple on the couch had begun to engage in some serious PDA. I mean serious kissing here, not light pecks.

I wasn't done buying train tickets yet. Only two of the stores in Vaud were in Lausanne--the third was in Vevey, a 10-minute train ride away. With time running out to get to Vevey and back so I could finally head to Geneva, I, perhaps foolishly, made the mistake of trying to use my card at the ticket machine (to preserve my remain 40 francs for food and small purchases). The machine required a PIN, though, and so I missed the 15:33 train and had to buy a ticket from an agent and take the 15:50.

View from the station at Vevey.

No worries in Geneva, the stores all closed at 9:00. I visited two, photographed the third while the sky was light, then set off in search of food. I usually shun hotel food, but many restaurants were closed on Sundays, so I finally gave in and ate at the Hotel Calvy. I needed more meat than had been provided with my spaghetti the previous days, so I ordered a steak. Expensive, of course, but pretty darn tasty. Much better than the meat served up at the mom-and-pop Latin American restaurants that I like to frequent.

Sweet! On the train back to Zurich I listened to an interview with XXX, and XXX mentioned that he had started playing music on Grafton Street. A week earlier that would have meant nothing to me. But now, I knew exactly where Grafton Street was, what it looked like, and why a street musician would want to play there. I could visualize not only the street, the shops, and the Starbucks, but also the old man playing the violin in a side alley, and the bronze-painted performer pretending to be a statue. However useless some people think my Starbucks project is, at least I'm learning geography that, while not necessarily useful, does enhance the stories that I encounter by giving me context.s

Very weird. Not sure how it happened, but somehow my iPod had been set to a time about 45 minutes before the true time. When I reached Zurich I thought it was 11:00, but it was really almost midnight.

May 10, 2008

9:00 AM, and like the morning before I really wanted more sleep. Except that this time I knew what I was feeling was due to 12 hours without caffeine, so I quickly went to the shower to avoid burning any more daylight. Now that I was feeling better, I wanted to see if I could make better time.

Well, that was mighty embarassing. I thought the hostel had screwed up my access card when I could not get back into my room after showering.

By the time I reached the bus stop I was sniffling again, and this boosted my confidence that I was just experiencing allergies.

Look at the ZVV map more closely and was relieved to see that I had never left Zone 10. Sihlcity was also in 10, and I would not have to pay extra until I visited Thalwil.

I was craving a proper American breakfast, eggs, bacon, biscuits, but when I arrived at Paradeplatz to change from Line 8 to Line 13, I spotted Caffee Spettacolo and decided on a whim to have a non-Starbucks coffee. Cappuccino--not bad. I didn't want a caffeine rush because of my hunger, so I tried a vanilla pastry called a Kabriki Plunder. At 4.80 for the coffee + 3.80 for the pastry, that turned out to be a very expensive pseudo breakfast.

Getting to Thalwil and finding the Starbucks turned out to be pretty simple. When I arrived, the supervisor/manager turned out to be the most incredulous of the 19 I had met in Zurich. Fortunately for me, the barista behind him had heard about me on some web site, and he added to my credibility. I asked him about Zug and Lucerne, and he said it was not only easy to get to both, but that I would be able to get to Basel from there. Furthermore, if I could get a hostel room in Basel, finish Basel in the morning, then go to Geneva and get back to Zurich by nightfall. Later, while I waited for the train in Zug, would report no availability in Basel--I crossed my fingers that the barista knew what he was talking about.

Unsure of which train to take for Zug, I asked directions of an attractive young blond student. Her name was almost a cliche for the region, Heidi, and she was very friendly and conversational. She was also into photography, and I hoped she would go to my web site to check out my photos and then e-mail me.

At the Zug station I bought a ticket for Lucern and thought to ask about Basel as well. She did not say so explicitly, but I assumed it turned out cheaper for me to buy them both. I should have thought of that when I bought the ticket to Zug.

I was told that Luzern is one of the favorite cities for visitors. Perhaps that is due to views like these?

The first Starbucks in Lucerne was right across from the train station, but I missed the second one and spotted the third one first. I still thought I had plenty of time to catch the 2:45 to Basel, so I stopped at tourist shop to buy some refrigerator magnets for my mother. On the way to that final, riverside, store I stopped for a hot dog and fries. What I did not anticipate, but should have since it was right next to the river, was the long line at the Rathausquai store. Because of this line I went ahead and bought a coffee--4.40 for a sample was the most I'd paid in a long time. And despite of this, I missed the train by no more than 60 seconds. Grrr...

Fortunately, there was a massage parlor right next to that first Starbucks, and hot young Swiss women were giving really cheap massages with lots of extra benefits!!! No, of course not. Just kidding. But I did have access to free wi-fi at the Starbucks, and that's almost as good as a massage from a hot Swiss woman.

Almost missed the train again because I was updating my list of stores and not quite finished before I had to rush off. Then I decided I needed to use the bathroom and wandered around looking for it before I found one that charged 2 francs and decided I did not want to pay. I had assumed the train would not have a bathroom, but that was a silly assumption. Of course it did, though it was quite literally no more than a tube that led down to the tracks. As I watched my stream trickle and splatter down onto the ground, I made a mental note to never lick the ground between railroad tracks.

For no particular reason, I chose to sit next to the attractive young redhead who happened to hold both Canadian and Swiss citizenship. From her I learned that Switzerland is not in the European Union! Say what what what??? Not in the EU???

As I neared Basel and plotted out the stores in Geneva I had the thought that I had misplanned again. I need not have returned to Zurich to fly out. I should have looked more close at train fares to other cities.

I trusted what I had been told, that the stores in Basel would be open late, but I should have verified this. After dawling at Centralbahnplatz, I made it to the Aeschenplatz by 5:58 to find it closed. Not wanting to have to remain in Basel if I did not have to, I called across the store to speak to the manager or supervisor, and when the barista came over I explained, and had her partner pull me a shot. From there I rushed to the other stores, a good thing because the final one, Claraplatz, was in the process of closing.

Hopeful, I hoofed it all the way back across town to the YMCA Youth Hostel, but my hopes were quickly dashed--there were no room. Tired and famished, I splurged on more spaghetti while I debated what to do next. I really needed to get online and check out the Geneva situation, but all the monkeybastards with computers near the restaurant had their wi-fi locked down. Monkeybastards!!!

The price of the spaghetti bolognese, 16.50, was comparable to those listed as the "kleine portion" at Molino in Zurich, but the portion was much larger. Not that I was that worried about the price since my travel budget was much larger. I couldn't help but think of my budget trip to London a few years earlier during which I tried to live on as few calories as possible, to such an extent that one night I found myself with my nose pressed to a window longingly looking at the food on the other side of the glass. No such shenanigans this time around. Traveling with money sure is nicer than traveling broke, let me tell you!

Rather than heading to the Starbucks for wi-fi, I returned to the hauptbahnhoff to check on train schedules first. There was a departure for Geneva at 21:01, in about 4 minutes, and another 3 minutes after that. That did not leave me time to rush to the Starbucks to see about hostel or hotel availability, and the next, and last, train would be at 22:01. Given the total cost of the trip, it would have been worth paying 100 francs for a hotel in Geneva, and I considered that, but I finally (and quickly) decided that the 31-franc fare back to Zurich where I already had a room was a better bargain. Since my Monday flight wasn't until 11:25, I was guessing that, based on distances, I might still have a chance of traveling to Geneva in the morning, then all the way back through Zurich to St. Gallen, and then back to Zurich.

The train, an ICE, was much nicer than the IR I had taken earlier. I asked the Dutch gentleman with whom I was sharing a table (yes, some seats had tables, and even outlets (that required an adapter)) about this, and he commented that the ICE train was faster because of fewer stops, and also more expensive. I wondered if I could have taken a cheaper train to Zurich, but I wasn't really sweating the 31 francs.

The Esso station near the hostel was apparently where it was at in Zurich on Saturday night. No fewer than three groups of youths, mostly male (and some not so young) crowded around vehicles. It was kind of weird, though, seeing a group around a Smart car. Have you seen a Smart car? I can't imagine youths with their bling and hotties in short skirts in, say, Houston, TX, chillin' at 3:00 AM (it was only 10:30 in Zurich) around a Smart car.

May 9, 2008

The hostel's wi-fi signal was accessible from my room, and at 6:45 AM I got up and eagerly checked isohunt for a Lost torrent. I saw two right away and went back to bed content that I would have the latest episode available to me when I got up. At 8:00, I double-clicked on the video file that had finished, and I realized to my dismay that I had downloaded episode 10, not episode 11. I immediately tried to look for the correct torrent, but whaddayaknow, just at that moment the hostel's wi-fi connection decided to die. AARRGHH!!! I went downstairs, but I could not detect it their either. I was still really tired, so I had not choice but to go back to bed. 9:00 AM, I tried again, but no dice. Same thing at 10:00, when I decdied it was finally time to get up.

During those hours, I had many false awakenings, which I often have when I slept late into the morning after having gotten to sleep late at night. As expected, my ultra-vivid dreams dealt with what was most promently on mind mind, downloading Lost. I imagined myself going downstairs and asking the person at the office to watch my laptop. I imagined myself successfully downloading the show. And in a bizarre twist, I imagined myself in a violent conflict with a curly-headed petite blonde who had attacked me for some reason having to do with my download. I ended up having to call the cops and then hold my phone carefully above my head to avoid being shot as I explained that I had been trying to detain her, not rape her. Weird stuff.

Just past 10:00 I still felt like I needed more sleep, but I decided that enough was enough and it was time to boogie. I headed back to Rindermarkt where I connected to a "default" network because the Starbucks one kept dropping out and waited while I downloaded the show. It didn't matter that it was already past 11:00 and that I was burning daylight--Lost took priority over everything.

The Spaghetti Factory that had aroused my craving for pasta the night before was too far from the wi-fi signal, so I instead popped into a small shop two doors down from the Starbucks. At first I found nothing that looked appealing and just bought a banana, but on the way out I spotted something that looked like a sausage roll. I had the lady who helped me write down the name of the product, but all I could read was "schweins wurstXX im teige".

Went back to the the Starbucks with my schwein and washed it down with a reddish tea-like carbonated beverage called Kombucha. I didn't really care for it, and I looked at the ingredients and noticed "Red Bull AG" in the list. The same Red Bull company?

Incidentally, the Ethiopia Sidamo I had a Rindermarkt, as well as the one I had later at Stadelhofen both tasted really good, and different from the samples I had had the previous day. Maybe my physical state affected their taste?

Finally got my spaghetti, a la carbonara, at a restaurant near the Stauffacher store. Washed it down with a Coke--for some reason Coke seems to ground me to home in a way that Starbucks coffee doesn't. During the meal I found myself wondering what to tip. I round the 22.70 up to 25, and later I googled tipping in Switzerland and Germany and made a mental note to always google tipping upon visiting a country.

Forgot to mention the discrepancy in Starbucks addresses available online across different countries. The addresses for the U.S. and Canada are, of course, the best. The ones for London tend to be pretty good too, though London has so many stores that quite a few of them are unplottable. The Irish ones sucked--very often there was no street address at all. Zurich, on the other hand, was excellent. Of the 17 (excluding two in the airport), Microsoft AutoRoute plotted 16 addresses. And even without the address, just having a postal code helped. Looks like I'll be able to count on the postal codes for Germany, too.

At Glattzentrum I met a manager/supervisor from, of all places, Mexico. He was very friendly, but mistaken about the presence of a movie theater in the shopping center. I obtained better information, I hoped, from the extremely attractive and yet friendlier dark-haired attendant at the information booth. She said there was a movie theater in Hardbrucke, and that it would likely be screening Speed Racer in English. Hardbrucke was within walking distance of the hostel, so if I could reach it in time for the film I'd be golden (I hoped). On the way I had the sense that I was finally, after some 28 hours, figuring out the bus and tram system.

Though on past trips I would have scoffed at wasting time overseas at the movies, I planned to be gone for many weeks and decided I did not want to wait and risk missing out on a movie that did poorly and left theaters. Plus, I really wanted to see Speed Racer. Unfortunately, by the time I reached the Abaton cinema around 9:30, I had missed the 8:00 PM English-language. The next was a 11:00, and that was just too late.

Walked around looking for something light to eat until I finally found an Indian-looking grocer and bought an apple. On the way back to the hostel I stopped at that Dollhouse club I had seen the night before. I might have paid the 15-franc cover, but I wasn't going to pay 100 francs for whatever a "table dance" consisted of.

It had not been that long, less than four hours, since I had taken the fake Benadryl, but I was seriously sniffling again. That made me worried that I was getting sick again, with something else this time. I did not take another pill so I could see what would happen the night. No sniffling, and I woke up without any great degree of congestion.

As I lay in bed that night, I had a sudden thought--I had forgotten to note the zones to which I was traveling. I had no idea if Glattzentrum was outside Zone 10. If it was, I had exposed myself to a penalty. Or worse? A Swiss prison?

May 8, 2008

Woke up at exactly the right moment, 7:37, which gave me time to shower, pack, and get downstairs for breakfast.

As I dressed I noticed my gut was protruding more than I would have expected given I'd not eaten that much in three days and been walking around for two. At the same time, I still had an unpleasant bloated feeling, so maybe it was mostly gas?

Missed a Luas train to Tallaght by, quitely literally, one or two seconds. The next one was only five minutes away, but it was starting to rain. The rain did not last, but I was more concerned anyway that I was running out of time to reach Tallaght and then the airport (without taking a taxi), let alone having time to visit Liffey Valley.

The Starbucks was conveniently located right next to the train stop, but the damage to my schedule was already done. According to the manager, it could take three hours to take the Luas back to the city center and then take a bus to the airport. That seemed extreme, but I only had about two hours if I was going to reach the airport by 11:15 (an hour before my flight). The manager also speculated that a taxi would cost 50 euros, quite a penalty for having poorly planned my trip to Talaght, but the cost of missing my flight would be higher. I did not really see a choice.

The ride ended up costing just 35 euros. Still expensive, considering that I could have avoided the cost by simply planning better. If I had visited Talaght Wednesday evening, I could have visited Malahide in the morning and had a much shorter trip to the airport from there. And that's not even counting the time I wasted going back to bed Wednesday morning. I didn't really want to chide myself for that, because Starbucks losing a great deal of luster if I am constantly rushing, especially when fatigued.

The taxi driver, bearing a proper Irish name of Michael Sheridan, spoke with the thickest brogue I had heard during my time in Ireland. There were certain words and phrases that escaped me, but I just went along. I also noticed that, just like the ladies on the DART train to Blackrock, this Irishman expressed a keen interest in the American election.

It should go without saying that after spending the extra money to ensure my timely arrival at the airport, I ended up with well over an hour to spare. For one, the Aer Lingus flight boarded just 30 minutes before departure--it was only an hour for interncontinental flights. And security was a breeze. I had expected no less--my trips through security in Europe had generally been easier than in America, and the staff tended to be more polite and mannerly than the pricks the TSA seems to enjoy hiring (not that they have much of a choice, given what I've heard they pay). Maybe the Europeans pay more, or maybe the Irish are just naturally more polite.

I found a power outlet at Caffee Ritazza not far from my gate, A12, and tried to get online. Unfortunately the wi-fi, thru eircom, was not free. What was, though was somebody named Gary's Limewire music library. It took me months to figure out why I would sometimes launch iTunes and see somebody else's music library listed. First I thought it belong to someone who had used my laptop to power her iPod, but later I figured out iTunes was going out on any available network and searching for music via something call Limewire. I wondered who Gary was, and if he knew I was listening to his copy of Eva Cassidy's cover of "Time After Time".

Slept during most of the flight, except towards the end when the son of one lady behind me started throwing a small football with the son of another lady--I had to give up at that point.

I wasn't sure what to expect in terms of languages on signs, but I soon saw that German appears to be the primary language.

The customs agent barely looked at my passport and waved me along.

The information desk directed me to the Starbucks upstairs where I immediately asked for the manager. He was very friendly and informative and explained that all the stores in Switzerland are run by Starbucks.

This won't make sense, but as I sat there verifying my list of Starbucks, I did not have the sense of being in a foreign place called Switzerland. I just didn't feel like I was in Switzerland, whatever it is supposed to feel like.

I did, however, feel much better than I had felt earlier than morning, or for the duration of my stay in Ireland for that matter.

Besides a second Starbucks, I had a few other tasks to perform before I could leave the airport. First I stopped into the shop across the hallway and determined that I did in fact need a plug adaptor for Switzerland. That shop was out, but I found one upstairs. Next, because I expected the banks might be closed by the time I reached the city center, I obtained $50 worth of Swiss frances. The currency exchange bureau downstairs had been closed, so I used Credit Suisse instead and had to pay a 5 franc fee--bah. I needed the cash, though, for a 6 franc ticket to the central station, and for food. I almost waited in line a bit trying to get that ticket until a young man emphasized that it was very easy to use the ticket machine. With the help of another traveler, I figured it out. With the help of yet a few more people, I managed to find the correct platform and get on the train to Zurich.

Ah, now this makes me feel more like I'm in Switzerland.

The Rennweg store was the closest to the train station, and I finally started noticing differences. First, the donuts--lots of donuts, three varieties. And then, the prices!!! Yipes, but the prices were high. Earlier, at the airport, when I asked about Starbucks, I heard the person comment that Starbucks was too expensive for the Swiss. Well, if you could see the menu board you would understand. The highest price-- 9.40 frances, for a White Caffe Mocha. But here's the really cool difference--30 minutes free wi-fi!!!

At the next store, Bahnhofstrasse, I learned that stores with two stories are common in Switzerland. I also noticed that the sugar dispensers have these convenient long spouts for pouring.

Had to skip Bleicherweg that had closed at 7:00, but I managed to get three more after that. The walk across the river/lake was great. Very pretty scenery. And more ducks! Why do I like ducks so much?

At Bellevue I met a district manager who happened to be from America. She was very helpful with directions, but unfortunately a little off on the time. The next store up the road had actually already closed, but I was still able to get to the coolest store, Central, in time. On the way I passed a couple of adult theaters and some cabarets. I was curious about the adult cinema, but not curious enough to pay 15 francs.

My appetite seemed to have finally returned--I had a mad craving for spaghetti. Unfortunately I had already eaten a hot dog and did not think I could finish a whole plate of spaghetti.

Before heading to the hostel I stopped at the other adult cinema--same story with the entry fee. I also dropped into two of the cabarets. At the first, the English-speaking Asian woman explained that there were no "lap dances". Instead, I needed to buy a beer for 17 francs, and that would get me room. At the other cabaret, the deal seemed to be the same, but the prices were ridiculous. A trio of girls insisted I sit with them as they explained the menu, which included drinks in the hundreds of francs. One bottle of champagne was listed at over 1100 francs!!! The Spanish-speaking girl explained that for that bottle, I would get to spend time with all three of the ladies. If, on the other hand, I chose a 20-franc drink, I would get to spend time alone. The girl was very polite up until the point I made it clear I was not going to stay, and then she said something in German that I'm pretty sure was rude. When I explained I could not stay because I did not have cash, she said I could use a credit card. Fat chance of that--I would never use a credit card at any gentlemans club even in America, let alone overseas. Not because I care about it showing up in my records, but because it would be too easy for them to run up the charges.

After asking around, I managed to find the correct bus to the hostel and figure out how to buy a ticket. When I arrived, I realized that I had forgotten to e-mail the previous week and arrange to stay two extra days. Still, I lucked out, and my room was available through Monday, when I would fly out.

Unlike the lively Abraham House, this hostel was more like a dormitory. I did not see guests milling about chatting. I saw very few people, in fact. The rooms were for no more than two, which was a little disappointing from the perspective of meeting people, but better from for security. I did not feel the need to keep my backpack next to my head when I slept.

I had only visited seven stores in Zurich that day, plus one in Dublin--eight really wasn't that much. Still, I had an incredibly difficult time sleeping. Part of the reason was my constant need to kiwi. I think I set a record, making kiwi no fewer than twelve times over the course of some 3-4 hours. I worried that my dormmate, an Irishman named Nile (no S), would be disturbed by all the times I left the room. Because of the bells on some nearby clock, I knew that I did not get to sleep before 2:45 AM.

Nile, incidentally, was not on vacation, but spending time in Zurich for tai chi training. It's a good think I asked him about this before he went to bed, because when I came back from one of my trips to the restroom I found him on his hands and knees on the bed, ass protruding in an suggestive manner. Had I not known about the tai-chi and assumed it was some exercise, I would have wondered if it was some kind of code for those gay hostel trysts I've heard so much about.

May 7, 2008

I usually leave the hostel before breakfast is served, but I couldn't seem to get enough sleep and stayed in bed until 7:45. I scooted into the shower as quickly as possible before any of the other dormmates could, and I proceeded to scrub as best I could without soap. Soap was the one item I forgot to pack the most often. At hostels where the bathrooms were shared among different rooms, it is often easy to find a spare bar, but the only thing left over in the room's bathroom was a bright red container that read "PAPER SHAMPOO". It contained the remnants of some white substance. I left it alone.

The hostel breakfast was, as usual, a bare minimum. A croissant, really bad orange juice, and a scone.

I felt worse than the night before, but I chalked it up to caffeine withdrawal. I needed to get that first sample in me quickly.

I did an about-face, however, something I had never before done during my overseas travels--I went back to bed. To avoid continued withdrawl, I had half a cup of coffee from the kitchen. It was some god-awful swill, let me tell you. Whatever you might think of Starbucks coffee, it is vastly superior to that hostel coffee.

I couldn't get to sleep right away because several of the five Canadians were packing to leave for Denmark. As I lay there, I fully felt my exhaustion and wondered why, after nearly eleven years, I was still pursuing a seemingly impossible goal. What was the point, really?

At the same time, I knew that was just the fatigue talking. Once I felt reenergized I would feel the excitement anew of visiting new places, of the challenge of trying to get to these stores.

At 20 of 11:00 a hotel staff member came in to clean up the beds of the guests who had left. I decided enough was enough. I'd heard many times that too much sleep can be detrimental, and I was sure I had passed into the that territory. I needed to get moving.

So I moved, but slowly. I walked at a very slow pace towards Harcourt Street. I stopped at a market for an apple. I had to fight off a bit of queasiness with every bite. I was still experiencing a combination of hunger and a lack of appetite.

Not far from the hostel, a view of this tall spire thingy--what is it???

Stopped at the Bank of Ulster to exchange currency and received a much better rate than I had at the airport, or than what was advertised at various nearby currency exchange bureaus.

I noticed that some of the bathroom doors have these strange locks, not exactly intuitive. I wonder how many people get walked in on because of these.

The manager at Harcourt gave me pretty good directions to Dundrum and Beacon South Quarter. From there she said to take the Luas to the Charlesmont stop. Once I arrived I had no idea in where to walk, so I asked directions of an attractive redhead (if redheads are going extinct, it doesn't seem so in Ireland) who was insistent on helping me find my way.

I started feeling a bit better as I walked along the canal towards Mespil Road. Along the way I spotted many duckies, and also some swans, including this one sitting on eggs (how cute). I wished Rebecca, who had never been to Europe, could be there.

I did not think I could take another coffee without eating something, so I popped into Beshoff Bros, a restaurant serving fish and chips. That was the first meat (if you consider fish to be meat) I had eaten since Monday, and really the first significant amount of meat I had eaten since Saturday night's pizza from hell. Fish and chips were decent, but I still had trouble eating despite feeling famished. After just a few bites I felt bloated. I might have attributed this feeling to the liquid coffee, except I had only been to three Starbucks--I hadn't really drunk that much. I really worked at eating as much as I could--7.95 euros was a lot of money to waste not finishing the meal.

After Ballsbridge I had to take a different type of train, the DART, to Blackrock. By the time I arrived I began to worry whether I would make it to Malahide before they closed, so I could not wait for the manager to finish interviewing--I just bought a solo espresso.

On the train to Blackrock I asked a lady what the body of water out the window was. She replied it was Dublin Bay and asked where I was from. This led to a discussion of the election, and the teacher of a group of giggly teenage girls volunteered that they all supported Obama. I don't know what it says for Hillary's chances, that teenage girls in Ireland support Obama.

Hmmm... that beach doesn't look so inviting to me, but what do I know.

Upon reaching the Malahide station, I friendly, heavyset, red-faced, English man overheard me asking about Starbucks and led me part of the way there. He seemd to have a rather poor opinion of Starbucks, and he recommended a chain called West Coast Coffee.

At the Malahide store itself I met the first barista who recognized me on site, from a photo in an article.

On the way back from Malahide I noticed many cranes, just as I had noticed them throughout the city center. Clear evidence of Ireland's economic boom.

May 6, 2008

Managed to sleep during most of the flight, and I did not feel very sleep when we touched down around 7:00 AM GMT.

Though after nearly 11 years my Starbucks project does become tedious at times, I never fail to be excited when I see that first new store in a new country, and Dublin was no exception. Unfortunately, I quickly learned that the airport location is licensed out, to Alpha Retail but were switching to HMS Host. The supervisor did not quite know enough to explain how the licensing worked in Ireland, but then the manager showed up, and she knew quite a bit more. The whole issue of International licensing was going to be quite a hassle for me, I could tell.

The manager Monica, from the Czech Republic, was very helpful, but she could not tell me what I really wanted to know, whether there is a way to tell which stores are licensed. While there I went ahead and asked for a sample, just in case I decided to add the store to a separate list. Plus, I needed the coffee.

Monica suggested that I take a bus to Blanchardstown next, and as I prepared to leave I received the shock of a lifetime... I had forgotten my camera!!! AARRGHH!!! I had spent all that time finding a larger backpage, making a list of what I needed, and spent over 30 minutes packing, and I still forgot the camera. I even had the battery charger. I had even experienced a moment of panic while on the way to the airport when I wasn't sure if I had my SD card. I checked to make sure it was there, and I completely forgot about the camera!!! Wow. That is just stupid.

Didn't have to wait to long for the Urbus to arrive. As I expected, only exact change was accepted, so I had to pay 5 euros instead of 4. The driver seemed to be an immigrant. He understood that I needed to get to Blanchardstown, but he did not understand my question about what the second language on the road signs was.

Okay, the manager at one of the Blanchardstowns stores clarified that the second language in Ireland is in fact Irish, and it is similar but not the same as Gaelic. She also sat down with me and pointed out the four stores that are licensed, and gave me two stores that are not on the web site.

Tried a butter scone, which tasted pretty much like a biscuit. I couldn't really taste a distinct butter flavor. Perhaps "butter" refers to "buttermilk"?

A specialty store called the Camera Centre was conveniently located two doors down from the Starbucks. They had exactly one model of Nikon Coolpix left, an S510, for 300 euros. I asked the attendant about any other electronics stores, but then I quickly changed my mind and decided I did not want to waste time trying to save a few bucks, not in the greater context of a long trip. If I ended up with extra time after visiting all the stores, I'd be better of using it to see something interesting.

Oh, but but the story gets better. I went over to the Starbucks in the Borders, and while I was fishing around for the Coolpix, I discovered that my D-80 was right there in the backpack, at the bottom of one of the many compartments, under some clothes!!! Oh... my... god. I had just spent 300 euros on a camera for nothing. After I finished at the Borders store I anxiously went back across the street to see if I could return the camera.

Dang, I should have looked for a larger, multinational, store in which to buy the camera. The Camera Centre, being small, has a no refund policy. So now I'm stuck with a 300-euro camera I don't need.

I took the #39 bus from Blanchardstown into the city centre. A kind lady pointed out the stop for College Green, and the Starbucks was conveniently located just a hundred feet down the road. Just like the other three stores I had visited, many of the staff appeared to be immigrants, non-English speaking. In this respect, Ireland seemd a lot like London, New York, or Washington, DC.

At the BT2 store I ran into the first Irish barista who had been to my website. I also learned that one of the stores on my list had never been built, but that there was another on nearby Dawson Street. Oy vey.

No luck finding a place that stocked computer software, other than games, so that I could buy an English-language copy of AutoRoute.

Across from the Dawson Street store I spotted the first begging person I had seen in Dublin, an older heavyset woman with tan skin and a head scarf.

Thoroughly famished, I really needed a substantial meal, but when I saw the sign for Lemon Crepe & Coffee Co., I could not resist the promise of crepes. The crepe was not great, but better than that from Nancy's in Silver Spring. What irked me was that, despite paying 5.30 euros for the crepe, I could not finish the entire thing. And it wasn't that big, either. I don't know what it was--maybe too much sugar (the chocolate). Maybe all the coffee I had consumed (only 6 samples). Maybe still getting over my illness (though I felt more or less fine, just tired). Incidentally, the music playing in the restaurant--R.E.M.'s Out of Time.

Oh, something else I noticed at the cafe was the word GALETTE, on the menu. This word was an unpleasant reminder of a Scrabble game I had lost a couple of weeks earlier, in no small part because I failed to recognize the word and challenged. Truth be told, it would be a relief not to have to play Scrabble for 30 days, probably more.

CHQ (Custom House Quay) seemed to be in the direction of the hostel, and it took a while to find, by which time I was thoroughly pooped. I headed immediately to check into the hostel, the Abraham House, offered my apologies to the three Canadians in the room, and promptly went to sleep. Fortunately for me, they came back in around 9:30 to get ready to go out clubbing; otherwise the Tesco would have closed and I would had had to travel farther to find food. The thing is, even at 9:30 the sky was still light out, so I thought it was earlier.

A funny thing--a fourth dormmate was from France, and his English was limited. I was able to speak to him in better French than the Canadians. I found this surprising, given that French is supposedly an offical language in Canada. Thomas accompanied me to the Tesco, and I was glad for the opportunity to practice some French.

The Abraham House has free wi-fi, so I sat in the lobby to eat and blog. I sared a table with Emily the Canadian, and nearby a trio of young women sat in front of one of the computers and chatted in a language that was completely incomprehensible to me. Even though I don't speak Chinese or Russian or Arabic, I can tell when it is being spoken. Not so with this language. I was clueless. Turned out it was Finnish.

May 5, 2008

Finally got up at 9:30, after spending the better part of 20 hours in bed. My headache felt like it was going away, but my body still felt sort. I was weak, but that made complete sense given that I had hardly eaten all of Sunday--crepes, orange juice, a power bar, an apple, some strawberries, and a little bit of soupon with chicken and rice.

Rebecca drove me to the Macy's in Wheaton Mall so I could return the polka-dotted backpack that I feared would mark me as a naive tourist. We also stopped at Bank of America where I learned that the service fee for traveler's checks is pretty hefty, $20 per $1000. I decided to just take cash. It's not like I wasn't going to be careful with my backpack anyway--I'd have a very expensive camera plus my laptop and indentification. The cash and cards would, of course, not be readily accessible just in case someone tried to open up one of the small pouches and go fishing.

Dropped Rebecca off at GWU and headed out towards my cousin's in Ashburn. I stopped for some Salvadorean food, but I could barely eat half.

At the Aer Lingus counter, I had a feeling from the way the attendant was looking at me that I would be selected for scrutiny, and I was right. In addition to the TSA, I received further scrutiny from the Aer Lingus staff--an agent tracked me down to make a copy of my passport, and then I had to wait in line yet again before being searched.

On board the Airbus plane, the first voice to come over the loudspeaker was in the native language (is it called Gaelic or is it called Irish, I keep forgetting), and female. For a moment I thought I heard the voice say she was the captain. That would have been my first experience on a plane with a female captain, but later on male voices came on to announce that the actual captains were male--the female was just the "cabin manager".

May 4, 2008

Finally headed up to visit the store in Westminster, MD. On the way stopped a Nancy's Kitchen for some of the worst crepes I had ever tasted.

Can't say if it had anything to do with the crepes, or with the awful pizza from TJ's in Franklin, NJ, but after we left the Starbucks and headed over to Target, I began to feel a bit queasy. During the 40-mile drive back to Silver Spring I developed a headache, and my body started to ache. The plan had been to head to Alexandria where Rebecca would introduce me to indoor-rock climbing, but I felt way too bad for that. I needed a nap, at minimum. By the time we reached the house, I was barely functional, but I still felt that if I could sleep a couple of hours I'd be fine for climbing. Not so.

After some four hours, I had not slept at all, and I had begun to feel worse. I wasn't just fatigued--I was sick. With a flight to Dublin the next day, this was a really bad time to get sick. In fact, I hadn't gotten sick the entire 9 months I had worked in West Chester--so why now???

My symptoms were unusual. The headache was intense, and I think I had a fever. But I suffered no sneezing, sniffling, or sore throat, like I usually get with a cold or flu. Instead I experienced diarrhea, at three different times. To compensate I had to keep drinking water, to avoid dehydration. I think the worsening headache was partly due to losing so much fluid.

May 2, 2008

Shortly after 5:30 PM, I wrapped up my work at MEI. Finally... free!!!

May 1, 2008

Decided to only book as far as London, after Zurich and Cologne, for the moment. I don't want to book too far in advance in case I need to return to the U.S. for some reason. London is a good place to reasses because it is likely that I can find cheap flights from there with less advance booking, and I can kill time in England while waiting for a flight by renting a car and heading outside London.

April 29, 2008

Okay, my head hurts. From Dublin I need to figure out an itinerary that covers Madrid, Barcelona, Seville, Paris, London, Zurich, Vienna, and several German cities. I also want to throw in Athens, Turkey, and Beirut if I can. Germany seems to have Starbucks spread all over, like the UK, and will be difficult. I have to factor price, number of days in each city, and availability of hostel rooms.

On top of these difficulties, the Hostel Suisse in Zurich, the only one I found on, was having a problem with my single name and e-mailed, twice, to request additional information. I finally had to e-mail them a photo of my passport.

April 28, 2008

When my manager came down to the lab I asked him if it was definite that I'd be finished on Friday so I could go ahead and book that overseas flight. He said "book the flight", and I got cracking. Settled on leaving for Dubling out of IAD on Monday night. Pushed my departure back a day from Sunday so I could spent more time with Rebecca.

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