World Tour 2009
European tour ended August 15, 2009. U.S./Canada tour ended October 18. Final update October 21. Blog continues here.
STARBUCKING THE UK short film, part 1
STARBUCKING THE UK short film, part 2
Spiegel Online Video
Stores visited: 644PHOTOS
Coffee consumed: (X - 85) * 4 + 20 = 2256 + 96 oz French press + 4 oz drip/press blend + 12 oz iced coffee + 1 dark berry mocha Frap + 54 solo + 1 extranus grande cappucino + unspecified (4 to 8) oz French press (for interview) + 1 extranus grande latte + 1 non-Starbucks capuccino + 1 extranus cream something Frap + 4 oz drip/iced blend + tall fuck-off latte + 3 mediocre hostel au laits
Miles driven: 615 + (7000 - 1875 - 140) = 4540 miles
Spent on coffee: $44.62
Spent on petrol: $1,576.60
Spent on airfare: $2,212.32
Spent on rental cars: $1325.25
Spent on public transport: $1,188.79
Spent on lodging: $1,203.70
Spent on tolls/parking: $58.33 + $151.43 (parking tickets) + $167.82 (myster Hertz-rape-billed tickets)
Misc expenses: $1.70 (Internet) + $7.28 pounds (plug adaptor) + $50.68 ('07 AutoRoute) + $29 (sleeping stuff)
Revenue: $3.58 (donation (minus PayPal fee)) + $164.52 (Google AdSense)
Medications: 6 fake benadryl + 4 fake Tylenol cold pill + 6 fake Sudafed + 2 fake Nyquill gelcaps + 4 fake Excedrin + 2 Loratadine
U.S. Stats (Part 1, May 18-25)
Stores visited: 17
Coffee consumed: 88 oz drip coffee + 1 DoubleShot
Spent on coffee:
Spent on gas:
Spent on tolls/parking:
USA/Mexico/Chile Stats (Part 2, September 7-??)
Stores visited: 34 + 3 (Mexico) + 29 (Chile) + 39 (Canada)
Coffee consumed: (X - 10) + 48 = 424 oz drip coffee + 20 oz French press + 4 oz iced coffee + 2 solo + 1 shot Americano + 44 off-project oz drip coffee + 8 oz pour-over + 12 oz Via + 8 oz off-project Via
Miles driven: 10535 + 4355 - 990 = 13900
Spent on coffee: $16.71
Spent on gas: $1,181.09
Spent on tolls/parking: $156.66
Spent on airfare (Chile): $959 + $145.92 (throwaway ticket)
Spent on public transport (Chile): $29.33
Spent on lodging (Chile): $56.40
October 21, 2009
I need to figure out what the relationship between Starbucks and SSP is, so I can figure out if the SSP stores should count for me. The thing is, they definitely don't count in countries like the UK and Spain, where Starbucks is is primary operator. So it would seem they shouldn't count in Sweden either, under the assumption that eventually Starbucks will operate its own stores there.
October 18, 2009
My trip was almost over, but the excitement continued, when I arrived in Nederland (next to Port Arthur), TX, to reshoot the Starbucks there. I got off some shots from one angle but was still shooting when some dorknuts in a big SUV pulled into the parking lot and parked right next to the store, along the fire line, even though there were many parking spaces free.
I walked around the store to shoot from a different angle when a barista walked out onto the patio, leaned over the railing, and asked me what I was photographing. By coincidence, it was just on Friday that I e-mailed Starbucks about how their policy of instructing baristas to tell people photograph was disallowed had no basis in law. I had posted the same thing to MyStarbucksIdea.com a year or two earlier, and I had e-mailed the same thing to Starbucks years earlier, with no response.
Basically, I was out of patience with this harassment, and I was out of patience with baristas not knowing who I am. My viewpoint is that, after twelve years of visiting stores with no end in site, Starbucks should be informing all baristas about who I am and telling them not to harass me.
I used to try to explain this to baristas, but I was done with that, and I just ignored this one and walked back to my car so I could move it across the street. As I was walking back across the street, dorknuts came over in his SUV, stopped next to me, and said, in a tone that I absolutel did not like, "What are we taking pictures of." I didn't like his tone, nor the way he looked at me, so I just walked off and said "I'm not the in the mood."
I went back across the street to finish the shots I had been taking before dorknuts parked in front of the store, but dorknuts sped back across and parked in the same spot before I could finish. He walked back into the Starbucks. I had no idea what he was about--he was not in any kind of uniform, and I saw no reason for him to be getting involved.
I finished up my shots from a couple of different angles and went back across the street, and as I did so dorknuts (and his wife) drove back across the street and over to my car. I had my phone with me and was prepared to dial 911, but all they did was pull out a camera, and, presumably, take a photo of my car. My best guess was that these people were a pair of racists who thought I was a Muslim terrorist. Maybe you can figure it out. Here's a picture of their car and license plate, (Texas) 9NX-B55. If anybody reading this has access to one of them sites that allows you to figure out a driver from the plate and wants to do so, feel free. I'll post the info.
I started to drive away from Nederland, but it occurred to me that there are a lot of crazy people in the world, and dorknuts could be one of them. I turned around, located the police station, and went over there to file a report, just in case. I know the police can't do anything, but if I run into troulbe in the near future, that guy should be suspect number one. The case number, assuming the cop didn't just throw the form away, should be CFS 09-08728N, or, if the number doesn't work, the file might be found using the following info: date 10-18-2009, time 18:22 hours, dispatcher McDaniel, and officer Dixon.
October 17, 2009
Beignets at Cafe du Monde, then New Orleans reshoots, then Scrabble up in Baton Rouge.
October 16, 2009
I took the slow through out of Columbus, through downtown, and I passed Ruth Ann's Restaurant. Decent enough biscuits (nothing like Flying Biscuit's, however), but I really didn't care for the way the hostess spoke and looked at me.
Walked into the Lynn Haven Starbucks, paid for my coffee, and sat down to check some e-mail. After a while, the manager asked me if I was the Starbucks tourist--he remembered me from another area store. Dang, I could have gotten free coffee, but I'd misread the vibe I got from that manager.
One advantage to having skipped Bradenton was that I was able to reshoot a bunch of stores, but the real benefit was that I truly enjoyed the drive. The weather was great, and with no time pressure I was able to dawdle as long as I liked.
Lucked out in Pensacola and walked in to Sammy's just as they were offering 2-for-1 dances. Took advantage of the offer, but I got out of there afterwards, as neither the vibe of the place, nor the quality of the dancers...
October 15, 2009
7:45, still raining day in Durham. And, with a lot of cars at the drive thru at the store on Guess Road, that meant my third attempt for a good photo was foiled.
I think I jinxed myself. The day before I was talking about how the cooler weather allowed me to buy big bottles of orange juice and keep them in the car for several days. I think that depends on which brand of juice. The Whole Foods brand must be fresher, perhaps with no preservatives, and as such by the third day it was tasting a little rancid. Good thing I had already drunk over 3/4 of the bottle. Anyway, it was a good thing I had just received a $50 donation to the cause. With the extra money I decided the rational move was to dump the rancid juice.
Finally!!! Ten years after my original visit the Charlotte, when I, in my youthful naivete, actually asked a security guard if I could climb onto a beam to get a photo of the Charlotte Plaza store. That store, incidentally, is one of the few stores located on the second floor of a downtown office building. Most stores inside office builds are either on the ground floor or on a basement level.
Had to to park outside Charlotte Plaza, but the cost was very reasonable, just ten cents. Actually, seven, because I found three on the ground next to the new-fangled multi-space metering machine. Over on nearby Church Street, where I parked to reshoot the Bank of America Plaza store, I found two more pennies, again, right next to the machine. Curious, I thought, and then I figured out what was going on. People fishing for nickels, dimes, and quarters were spilling pennies onto the ground and not bothering to pick them up. I wonder if the homeless have figured out that they should be checking the ground underneath the meters regularly.
The new store in Atlanta, Monroe & 8th, happened to be conveniently located close to the Flying Biscuit Cafe on 10th & Piedmont. Thus, no extra delay to get my mandatory Flying Biscuit Breakfast... or so I thought. Wrong. As I usually do, I checked the bag before leaving, and I had seen a small bag with a biscuit alongside the box containing the breakfast. I assumed that bag was the extra biscuit, but when I drove off and opened up the box... no other biscuit. Grrr...
I had clearly asked for an extra biscuit, and Danielle (the girl on the phone) had seemed to acknowledge my request. Wouldn't have been such a big deal if I hadn't been in a hurry, and if I hadn't been on 10th Street in rush hour traffic, which meant turning around legally was extremely difficult. Good thing the u-turn I pulled did not get me a ticket, otherwise I might have had to burn that place down. With great regret, of course, because I do love their biscuits.
Besides Danielle's mistake, I did not care for her tone on the phone when I called to explain she had forgotten my extra biscuit. When I arrived, the host had already packaged the biscuit up in medium-sized brown paper bag, and I did not care for this egregious wasting of resources. Also, based on Danielle's tone, I couldn't be sure that the biscuit in the bag wasn't contaminated in some way, so I asked the host to grab me a fresh one from the tray behind him. He did so, but he gave me an impatient look. Worst Flying Biscuit experience ever. Grrr...
Still, I cannot deny the place has the absolute best buttermilk biscuits I have ever tasted, and my breakfast was so good, as always, that I did not immediately mind the heavy traffic heading southbound out of the city.
Once I finished my breakfast, however, I started to think about just how much time I was going to take to drive the nearly 500 miles to Bradenton. Between the traffic and the continuing rain, it looked like I was not going to make it before having to pull over, and that was going to make Friday's 800-mile drive even longer, perhaps even 1000 or 1100. I was going to be cutting it close for my Scrabble tournament, and I really wasn't keen to do that for one Florida store that, according to a barista, was doing well.
I couldn't be sure, of course, that the barista was telling the truth, or that the store would continue to do well. If I did not visit, it would be stuck there in the back of my mind for an indefinite amount of time, haunting me like a ghost.
I had to weigh that against what was sure to be a day and a half of hard driving, especially if the rain did not let up. Plus, I was already fatigued. I wasn't sure if I'd be able to drive much later than 8 or 9 PM. And frankly, those rushed drives are never fun, and I really did not want to do it.
When I reached the exit for SR-16, I made my decision and headed west towards I-85. A few miles into that drive it occurred to me that there might be Scrabble in Florida, so I called Rebecca to look up the tournament calendar. Sure enough there was a tournament not far from the Starbucks, but it was just a one-day, six-game event, and I doubted the competition would be strong. I decided I didn't want to give up the extra Scrabble for one store, especially given that two more stores would be opening in the area at some point in the future.
Having decided not to go to Bradenton, I thought I might check out a strip club in Columbus, but I quickly found out that none of the clubs in town are all-nude, going on maybe ten years according to the host. I wasn't enthused by a topless show and just went to sleep. First at the Wal-Mart parking lot and later, around 4:00 AM, near a wi-fi signal. It was a great signal, and by 7:00 AM all my downloads had finished, including Fringe and Fast Forward. Screw the naked ladies man, it was that good wi-fi signal that made Thursday night great!!!
October 14, 2009
8:11, considerably traffic on I-95, as I fully expected. And on I-495... does the Beltway rush hour ever end. But what really delayed me was chosing the wrong exit, New Hampshire Ave, to pull off the freeway and check my e-mail. Believe it or not, it took me nearly 30 minutes to get back on the Beltway.
Despite the delay, I was able to catch up with Matt at a McLean store before continuing on to Manassas. It was around 11:30 when I hit I-66 westbound, and my jaw nearly dropped in disbelief. Traffic was still backed up heading eastbound. Dude. Seriously, there are just way to many fucking people.
Didn't remember until I passed the restaurant that Centreville Rd in Manassas is home to a variety of Latin American restaurants. I picked up a quarter chicken with beans, rice, and yucca from Mi Casita, a Peruvian restaurant I'd discovered during a previous trip.
Oh no. Hardly been in the south for a day, and I've already seen enough Yuck Fil-a stores that the craving has begun to build up within me. The craving became so strong thast I actually had to look up a location in the Portsmouth area (actually Chesapeake) and even go a few miles out of my way. The horror, THE HORROR!!!
October 13, 2009
7:40-ish, waited until the Callowhill Whole Foods opened. That's a particularly good whole foods because the bakery makes buttermilk biscuits and the hot food bar has eggs and bacon.
Almost faced disaster in the parking lot when I left the car key set wrong and drained the car battery. Had to push the car to the other end of the lot, up a slight grade, assisted by a friendly man, and then pick up speed in the other direction so I could pop the clutch. It had been a while since I'd done that--it was actually fun, during the moments when I wasn't worried that I would run into that parked car.
Aw, jeez--is there no end to my database errors? My queries are telling me that I've visited 7540 of 7539 active US/Canada. Well, that is obviously wrong, because I still have 12 left.
Drove 170 miles to Selinsgrove only to find I didn't much like the look of the baristas. To start with, neither of the two I'd spoken with gave me decent directions to the store, and I nearly passed it up. From the telephone demeanor of the one of who might have been the supervisor, I decided I'd just pay for my coffee and be on my way. Given that I'd driven such a distance, though, I figured I might as well get something out of the trip, so I passed up the exit to US-11/15 and went into town instead with a craving for a good burger. Stumbled across a place called Emma's Food For Life, offering locally-grown seasonal food. I went for the grass-fed beef burger with seasons fries.
That was a damn good burger, yo. The only thing I might take issue with was the bun. It wasn't bad, mind you, but I did not become a fan of "spent grain". Emma the owner claimed that the spent grain, which I believe is leftover from the brewing process at the local brewery, gave the bun some "vibrancy", but I think it gave it a bit of a taste I didn't care for. The burger was still excellent, though, as were the seasoned fries. Too bad I'm not likely to ever go back to Selinsgrove.
Bah. For the second time I was not able to schedule a massage with Jill. This time around her girlfriend had come down with some severe abdominal pain and had gone to the hospital.
However, I was able to use the time to reshoot several stores, and by coincidence Whip It was playing just a few minutes after I reached the store on Nursery Road, at a theater across the street. Not a great movie, but I love Ellen Page.
October 12, 2009
6:41, just 19 minutes before the parking meters would go into effect... maybe. See, it was Columbus Day, a fact I had only just become aware of. I wasn't sure how the holiday affected parking regulations, but I could tell right away that traffic was lighter. I got back to Church & Murray and then over to Park & 19th with no problem.
The 575 Fifth Avenue relocated store was another story altogether. I'm assuming all the street closures were for a parade, and on top of that there was an event going on in Rockefeller Plaza. Took me quite a long time to clear the traffic and get far enough away that I found some parking where I thought I might not get ticketed, if I moved quickly.
Now that it was lighter, I headed back to Church & Murray and reshoot some other stores in the area. When I reach Fulton & Nassau I suddenly remembered the Cuban restaurant I had discovered back in October. The time was around 10:45, very close to 11:00, so I did something extremely unusual for me--I skipped breakfast altogether and went straight for lunch.
Three stores in Manhattan, four in New Jersey, that made seven, more than I had been visiting in a single day for most of my US/Canada trip.
Reached Philly in time to visit the new store before the sunset, and there I ran into a barista who recognized me from my movie. It had been a long, long time since that had happened.
At the Shell station across the street I heated up my leftover beans, rice, and plantains. For $7, that meal, along with a pear and a tomato, tided me over for the entire day.
I experienced a minor tragedy that night when I arrived at Bound Beverages in Bensalem and immediately saw that they had pulled three cases of the sweet tea, not the extra sweet.
Amreeka was playing in Philly, so I had another shot. I had planned on the 7:45 show, but minutes before I reached Center City I got a call back from a therapist I had seen years earlier, and she happened to be available. In the two years since I first saw her, she had gotten impressively better, and the massage was worth missing the movie, if I couldn't stay awake for it. But I guess all that coffee helped, because I had no trouble sitting through the 9:55 screening. Of course, the fact that the film was compelling helped.
October 11, 2009
Three new Long Island stores (one technically in Queens), Scrabble, and then the Church & Murray store.
OMG!!! Thee Landmark Sunshine in NYC is showing Sixteen Candles at midnight, a movie I've wanted to see forever!!! But there is no way I can stay up that late!!! AARRGHH!!!
October 10, 2009
The new West Haven store, then Scrabble.
October 9, 2009
7:05, shows not downloaded yet, but I needed to get my body used to getting up early because of the two Scrabble tournaments over the weekend. Flash Forward was a priority, though, so when I got to Marblehead I plopped down to watch it while I waited for a photo opportunity.
DUDE!!! On Thursday I had hung out outside the Wilmington store for a good 30 minutes. But it was not until Friday that I realized I had never actually gone inside. Fortunately, the Melrose store was just 10 miles from Wilmington.
DUDE!!! Due to wrong turns, it took me about 30-60 minutes longer than necessary to revisit the Melrose store, and what do I find? Scaffolding screwing up my photo!!!
On the bright side, the baker across the street makes some pretty good blueberry muffins.
OMG, sometimes I just want to scream. Decided to try a burrito from the Whole Foods, and the price came out to $5.34. I handed the cashier a twenty and then a single, and he looked a bit puzzled. After he'd opened the register I found a penny in my pocket, and I said hang on to those four pennies and put mine on the counter. Man, this totally blew his mind--he looked so incredibly confused. But get this--he actually had the nerve to pseudo-scold me, in a sheepish meek tone, saying something about "next time yadda yadda yadda, it's confusing sometimes". Dude can't add a penny, and he's going to scold me? Why are these people allowed to live???
"Lunchable joy penguin". Don't know what it is yet, but I feel it could be the next big thing.
October 8, 2009
7:05, rushed into downtown Boston and finally got that photo of Faneuil Hall, from the inside, that I had failed to get close to ten years earlier. The hall looked nothing like I remembered.
Geez, women can be so stupid and vain sometimes. As I positioned myself for a reshoot of the 874 Commonwealth Avenue store, a young woman walked into my frame. The woman was wearing a revealing top, and as soon as she noticed me and my camera she lowered her head and used her coat to cover up. Such vanity, to think that I was at all interested in her when I just wanted her to hurry up and get out of my frame.
Continuing along the stupidity trail, a stupid meter maid gave me a ticket even though there had been 5 minutes on the meter when I checked, and I had only gone into the Starbucks restroom and back out again. Her reasoning? That she didn't know how long the zeroes had been blinking. Over in the UK, the traffic wardens allow about 5 minutes for observation. Why? Because ticketing somebody who is already walking out to the car is highway robbery, which is what Boston is trying to do to me.
And yet more stupidity. Upon entering the car I noticed my money had spilled out of my backpack. But not all my money. No, the rest of my cash, plus two of my cards and my driver license, were nowhere to be seen. Crap. I had left the zipper of the pouch undone. I rushed back into the Starbucks and saw nothing. I thought maybe they had fallen out in the back of my car earlier, but I could not see them. I rushed back into the Starbucks to check in the restroom when a barista called out "Winter!" Blessed saints, she had my cards and cash! Can't believe this was the second time in five months that I had tried to lose my cards and license.
Oh shit!!!! Cold Souls!!! I had totally forgotten about Cold Souls, and I really lucked out. Had I not missed my turn onto 1A to get to Marblehead, I would not have passed by the Cabot Street Cinema, and I would not have seen the film listed on the marquee. Even better, the movie was screeing at 5:30, and it was right around 5:35. I decided I would reshoot Marblehead later, and I saw the film instead. Not great, not Paul Giamatti's best work, but still a very interesting concept for a film.
October 7, 2009
Finally, I cross the border into Maine at I-95 and drive the remaining stretch of that interstate that I had never driven before. The route I drove last year was actually 30 miles shorter, but one of the tasks on my list is to drive ever mile of every interstate.
Hated to do it, but with my money running out and $130.38 in Canadian currency left over, I decided the $2.98 that I would lose by converting the currency at the border was worth it just to have the extra U.S. cash. Had I been flush, I would have just kept the Canadian money. I didn't really care if the Canadian dollar drops in value because I'm going to spend the money when I return to Canada anyway.
Oh, no inspection BTW.
More bad food advice from baristas, at the remaining Bangor store. The supervisor seemed to think that the House of Pizza, behind the Best Buy, was excellent! Well, for one, they did not offer a smaller lunch portion of pasta. I wanted to save my appetite for Boston, so I just went with a slize of pepperoni pizza. It sucked.
Grrr... why doesn't Sprint have good pone reception in Maine??? I was losing signals during my entire drive.
With a couple of days to kill before Scrabble, I planned to reshoot a lot of stores around greater Boston. From a driving perspective, it would have been more efficient just to stay up north of Boston after shooting Newberryport, but out of the blue I remembered that Colombian restaurant I had found the night I returned from Europe. I was struck with the craving, and so I drove the 33 miles down to East Boston for a yummy yummy bandeja tipica. Traveling by car instead of on food, I was able to see that the neighborhood where the restuarant was, and nearby, was heavily hispanic, and there was actually another Colombian restaurant up Bennifer...
Whoa!!! I stopped writing that last sentence when the waitress brought out my food, and I did not realize until the next morning that I had written "Bennifer" instead of what I was going to write, which was "Bennington". Weird. Really weird.
Anyway, the arepa sucked hard, but I was given a lot of pretty good tostones. Unfortunately I found myself not to be that hungry, and I ended up having to save a god 75% of the meal. The rice and beans and meat would store perfectly well because of the cold, but tostones are never nearly as good the next day.
October 6, 2009
I knew the Champlain Place Mall store was an old CVI location, but it was a kiosk, so I was surprised to see that it had an oven (for the fresh pastries). With the knowledge that the fresh pastries might be gone the next time I returned to Quebec or the Atlantic Provinces, I figured I'd have a muffin. Though twice as expensive, these fresher muffins are way better than the ones from Tim Horton's. Sure wish Starbucks wouldn't abandon them, although I do understand Howard's motivation, that he wants the smell of coffee to be dominant. Still, I like the small of fresh muffins and scones.
HOLY CRAP!!! I had of course expected there to be a toll on the bridge to PEI, but I could not have imagined that it would be a whopping $42.50!!! Given that, I had to reconsider taking the ferry to Nova Scotia, but the price, $63, was high enough that I deemed it cheaper to take the land route, though 60 miles longer.
On the way out of Charlottetown I spotted a market/deli called Best of PEI, or something like that, and a sign outside advertised a hot hamburger. I suddenly had a craving, and I went inside to order, only to discover that a "hot hamburger" is not a hamburger like I know it, but actually a piece of burger patty on regular white bread, not a bun, served with gravy. Whoa. I passed and went with a burger from a tiny drive-in called Peter Pan up the street, where the poor girl working was all by herself and had a line at least five customers deep.
Holy shit, something else I would never have expected was that the bridge into Halifax, from Dartmouth, during the supposed outbound rush, would be backed up. I asked another driver who said it was normal and would take about 15 minutes. Ridiculous. And annoying because I was trying to get to four more stores before the sun set.
Interesting. Before leaving Halifax I looked around for food, and after the Chinese restaurant Fong Sing disappointed me with its lack of smaller food portions, the word "donair" on a sign caught my eye. I was immediately curious if it was a Turkish restaurant serving "doener", like in Europe, but the cook, clearly not Turkish, said it was just a pizza place. Then, behind the counter, I saw the racks of lamb that the "doener" places typically have, except that it wasn't lamb, but beef because lamb is too expensive in the area.
OH GOD!!! I'M SO SCREWED!!! A mosquito got into my car, and it was too dark for me to get it out of the car. Since I was all bundled up, I would probably suffer a bite ON MY FACE!!! KILL ME NOW!!!
October 5, 2009
After driving over to Place Vertu and chatting with the manager a bit, I called over to St. John's and was told in no uncertain terms by the manager that the Atlantic Provinces were doing great and that I could count on those two stores being there in a year, along with new openings. Given the expense, I'm going to have to trust him and postpone that trip--with no idea when I'll find a job, I just can't blow all that money.
A bit of disappointing news hour, the discovery that the new store in Montreal does not have its own kitchen, and the possibility that Starbucks is going to discontinue the kitchens at the old Montreal stores. I think that would be a mistake, as those freshly-baked pastries were a true treat, a sharp contrast to the standardized pastries elsewhere.
Wow, they still have my story in some textbook in Thailand, at some school called AUA. For some reason I received five e-mails in quick succession from students with questions.
Ah, nuts. For years I'd been noticing a restaurant chain called Cora's, all around Canada. Their sign advertises breakfast, and I had wanted to try it, but I had never seen a branch in the morning. Well, I finally saw one, near Place Vertu, and I walked in hopeful... but left disappointed. The prices, man, the prices. Had I had a job lined up, I might have been willing to experiment, to pay $10+ for breakfast. But not that day.
A few miles down the road, I found a local cafe, Paradiso, where I was served a perfectly good breakfast of eggs, toast, and bacon, with some tomato slices thrown in, for just $4.50.
In Levis I was reminded of the importance of trying to introduce myself to the the managers and supervisors, despite the risk (of scorn). The manager there recognized me from my previous year's visit, and in our chat she revealed that Starbucks had finally opened a store on Prince Edward Island. Charlottetown is just 100 miles from the Moncton store, and had I stealthed that Levis store I would have totally missed it.
Weird. The gas down the road from the Levis store had prices ending in 4 mils, not 9 as is common in America and everywhere else I've seen in Canada.
One again, just like the year before, stopped in Riviere-du-Loup for gas and grub, and I was pleased to find that La Chaudronee d'Amour was still around, and still serving some pretty good spaghetti at a good price.
Oh, jeez, Clone Wars! Totally forgot about the second season of Clone Wars.
World Have Your Say has some interesting topics, frequently edgier than the NPR equivalent, Talk of the Nation, but the guests, bloggers, and callers drive me crazy with their inability to reason logically. There isn't an episode that is not chock full of invalid assumptions and non-sequiteurs. It's really frustrating to live among such people.
Being on the West Coast was great for downloading my TV shows, because by 2:00 AM, 5:00 AM Eastern, most torrents were up, and that allowed 4-5 hours to download. In New Brunswick, however, it was just the opposite. Being one hour ahead of Eastern, there was little time for downloading between the hour that the torrents went up and when I needed to get up myself. Living on the road is freedom, but it ain't easy.
October 4, 2009
This is why Bank of America is evil and should be one of the most hated companies in America. Back in April I was offered a line of credit, and every time I looked at the account online to see how I could access the credit, I saw that the limit was $750. When I returned from Europe I noticed that the checks linked to that account were about to expire. I deposited one in the amount of $730, and the following week I discovered the check had been returned, and a $39 fee assessed. I had to call BofA and first deal with a rude agent who insisted that a $750 line of credit was no possible. Either she was lying to me, or my memory was really bad. I vote for the lying. After hanging up with her, I called back and spoke to a different agent who said he would reverse the fee and close out the account. End of story, or so I thought.
Flash forward six weeks, and all of a sudden the closed account reappeared, with a balance of five cents!!! I can't believe that for five cents I'm going to have to speak to these motherfuckers again. And if I didn't check my accounts online regularly, those five cents could have turned into a $39 late fee!!! Bastards.
Why don't I switch, you might ask? Well, who would I switch to that is better? I stay with BofA beccause they seem to have branches in more cities than any other bank, and with the discovery of the Global ATM Alliance and the fee-free withdrawals in many countries, I end up saving money even if I have to deal with their shifty shenanigans.
Can't remember if I blogged about it already, but the Liberte brand probiotic yogurt is pretty good. Bought it at Longos (where there is a FAKE Starbucks (yuck evil yuck yuck evil)), but I think I've seen it at other stores.
Dropped by the Unionville (Markham) store again. I think this is one of the stores I visited during my very first trip, in 1999. Of the stores I had visited to that point, Unionville, with its homey character, was one of the prettiest.
Ach! I cannot complain enough about my decrepitating memory. What did I forget this time? To download Friday's Law & Order. It was happening more and more, forgetting this show or that show. I'm sure that when I was a younger man, I could keep the schedules straight without missing a beat, no matter how many shows I watched. And it's not like my list is that long. Here are all the shows I'm currently watching, in addition to L&O:
The Daily Show
The Colbert Report
Saturday Night Live
Bored To Death
How I Met Your Mother
Law& Order: SVU
Saturday Night Light Weekend Update Thursday
See, not that long a list, not even when you add the shows that whose seasons have not yet started (or just finished):
Law & Order: Criminal Intent
To give you a further idea of just how good my memory used to be, I used to be able to remember the titles and plots of each episodes of my favorite shows. Not all the shows, but a good number of them. Can't do that anymore. I struggle just to keep the titles of all the Lost episodes straight.
I'm sure this is just a coincidence, but over in Kingston I experienced the rare case of the manager who, after I had already gone in and introduced myself, came out to tell me that I wasn't allowed to take photos. He was perhaps the most polite of all such Starbucks baristas, but he was still a brick wall when it came to my trying to explain to him the legalities, or lack thereof, and how Starbucks wasn't doing anybody, not even themselves, any favors by trying to prevent people from doing what they are legally entitled to do.
Continuing on the stupid policy theme, the Esso station down the street prominently displayed a sign advising that everybody would be carded for tobacco purchases, regardless of age. I politely pointed out to the cashier the case of the old man with a cane, and that the policy just made the company look stupid, and that she worked for the company and could push back, and she became upset and protested that, "I'm sorry but I need this job." I was unsympathetic. In fact, I was incensed. I'm not saying the Esso policy is harmful, just stupid, but a great deal of genuine harm is caused by employees just doing their jobs.
As I drove away from Kingston, I thought to myself, thank heavens I'm almost done with the US/Canada so I don't have to deal with this shit anymore for a while.
Hmm... something that I had never before noticed in Ontario--a lot of stands and food trucks offering french fries. Had the urge to try some, but I was in a hurry to reach the Rideau Centre Starbucks before it closed at 6:00.
Ah, nuts!!! I blitzed through Ottawa in the hopes of getting to Montreal to visit the Place Vertu store before the sunset. I missed that by a good hour, but I still hoped to visit and at least move to the other side of the city so I would not get stuck in traffic in the morning. But I had neglected to realize that Place Vertu is a mall, and the store actually closed at 7:00, about 20 minutes before arrived. I could easily have made up that time earlier in the day if I had not dawdled. Instead, I would have to stay the night, and that might just make it harder for me to finish Canada and get to New York in time for Scrabble. Of course, all those calculations were assuming I would go to Newfoundland, and I did not realize at that moment that my plans were about to change, because...
HOOOOOLY SHIIIIIIIIT!!! I finally looked up the cost of the ferry to Newfoundland, and my jaw dropped when I realized it was $167 for my car, EACH WAY!!! At that price, plus gas for the 1500 mile round trip, airfare was waaaaay cheaper. But that would require booking as early as possible to get the best price, and and also either having enough available credit to rent a car or paying for a taxi to get to the two stores, if time did not allow a slower form of transportation. It was looking like I might not be able to afford the trip!!!
As it stood, it looked like I would reach Halifax sometime on Tuesday, and to get the cheapest rate I'd have to leave Thursday and return Friday. That would mean missing Scrabble, but more importantly I did not really want to burn 1-2 days waiting around Halifax. Looked like I was going to have to call the St. Johns stores and try to get an assessment of whether they would close or not, and then hope to fly from the US at some later date.
Went off in search of cheap grubbins, probably Chinese food, but I ended up stumbling across a Creole restaurant called Marabou. Even better, the small chicken dinner included a fried green plantain!!! A good deal, too--the menu said $7, I think, for the small size, but the owner just charged me $6.
While I waited, the owner's kid was fascinated by my laptop. Given that his father was about to serve me food, I felt it important to demonstrate patience.
October 3, 2009
Scrabble in Cambridge. Sucked.
With the need to redeem myself at one of the following weekend's tournaments, I figured to have a couple of days to kill around NYC. I decided to try an experiment--well, more of a research project, really--that I'd been thinking about but never had time to pursue. The goal, to find out if there was a strip club in the area that would let me stay without requiring I buy a drink, and, failing at that, to see how long I could manage to stay at each club before being pestered out. Because so many clubs were concentrated in Mississauga and Etobicoke, I ended up driving just 7 miles and going to six clubs, finally ending up at Diamonds where, after declining a beer from the cooler at the door, and then distracting the bartendress with a question about tipping, I managed to sit down and not be noticed. When all was said and done, I managed to have an enjoyable time and spend zero dollars. In my mind, I won the game.
By the time I left Diamonds, I was famished, but I still took the time to drive down Bloor, where I was pretty sure I'd seen a Caribbean restaurant in the past. Yep, it was there, Caribbean Queen, and the owner (pictured in an article on the wall) gave me a huge portion of oxtails. I was very easily able to eat just half and save the rest for Sunday's lunch, making the meal a pretty good bargain.
October 2, 2009
7:15, headed down 159th St. to the new Orland Park store, and on the way I dropped by the original store to see if I could get another photo. I already had a photo that was pretty good, except for a single car in the frame. To me, that's like having a comic book that's not in mint condition. Ideally, I would have a perfect photo of each store, and if time permits I feel the need to try. Given that it was a weekday morning, I expected cars in front of the store, and I was surprised to find none. The reason became clear when a young woman pulled up in front seconds before I could take the photo. But before I could begin to curse and hex her, she gave a cry of agony and rushed back to her car. The reason--a sign on the door stating that the store might open around 10:00. Unlucky for all the other customers that pulled up, and left, while I was there, but great for me and my camera!
Dang, had that Scottsdale store not opened, my visit to the new Orland Park would have meant all my U.S. stores remaining would have been on the East Coast.
Dang, that shouldn't have happened. Stopped at the Frankfort store to hang out a while and decided to try the Via challenge. Can't believe I got it wrong, and mistook the Via (or at least what the barista said was Via) for the Pike Place. Two extenuating factors--the sample was hotter than I usually drink it, and I did not add sugar. Still, I felt bad.
Ah, nuts! Don't know why, but I forgot about the time zone change. I left Illinois expecting to see Amreeka in Bloomfield Hills at 4:45, but halfway there I realized I was an hour off and was not going to make it. There was a later show, at 7:40, but I was playing Scrabble in Cambridge, ON, Saturday morning, and I'd be cutting it too close. Ah, well, though the film seemed interesting, I wasn't desperate to see it.
Took the Ambassador Bridge crossing and was pulled into immigration. No car search, but I still considered it a bad omen for my Scrabble tournament. And as I expected, I did crappy, thanks to that stupid border agent.
Another bad omen, I happened to choose the world's slowest Tim Horton's. I wasn't that hungry and was going to settle for a muffin to go with my fruit for dinner, in part to save time, but I ended up waiting an egregiously long amount of time for a simple muffin.
Having finally figure out that it was cheaper to pay cash for the gas, given the no-fee ScotiaBank withdrawals, I estimated how much I'd need to get all the way to Newfoundland and to Maine. Whoa!!! 400 smackers!!! Jeez, Louise, that was going to put a serious dent in my remaining funds.
Something really strange on the 401 eastbound from Windsor. A sign warned that there was no fuel for 226 km, and sure enough all the service areas, though open, had signs advising there was no fuel. Since there aren't a lot of towns along the 401 between Windsor and London, this could be a problem for some people. Very weird.
October 1, 2009
Ay caramba--8:35!!! That meant 9:35 eastern time. Not good, not good. Not that I was in a hurry, but I needed to readjust my sleep schedule for the tournament on Saturday.
Blah. Rainy day. Guess I shouldn't complain. I'd seen very few rainy days since I left Houston at the beginning of September, and I didn't have a lot of critical reshoots in Minneapolis anyway. Still, I like the sun--it makes me feel good.
Wow--is it me, or is Whole Foods getting more and more expensive? With four and a half months since my last paycheck, the comparison between prices at Whole Foods and other grocery store was standing out more and more.
Something new at that Whole Foods, a sign warning shoppers not to put merchandise directly into their reusable bags "to avoid misunderstandings". Read: shoplifting.
Dammit, dammit, dammit. In the latest episode of Glee, the Heart song "Alone" was featured, and it took me at least six notes, maybe a couple more, to get it. Bad, bad, bad. I should be able to figure out every song in three notes or fewer.
Five episodes into Glee, I realized something--I don't like musicals. When I see a musical film, I exit the theater and read when the songs come on. So why do I like Glee? For that matter, I also liked Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog.
Wow--it's been eight or nine months, quite a long time, but so horrible was my customer service experience at the Grand & Dilley's store in Gurnee that my mood is still soured just from seeing Gurnee on a map. To recap, the manager, district manager, and regional manager all failed to address my concerns, and I find this unbelievably unacceptable. I'd been feeling good all morning, and all of a sudden, boom, I saw Gurnee on the map and my whole vibe changed.
Felt a lot better though, after stopping in Madison to see a therapist I'd seen several times before. I'd forgotten about her when I was driving into Minneapolis, and it actually worked out better for me that I did not find a therapist the night before. Not only was this fourth of fifth time around with her better than ever before, but she took account of my budget and threw in an extra 15 minutes. Definitely wouldn't have gotten that from somebody I'd never seen before.
I had originally planned to save money by just buying plantains at El Llano in Chicago, to go with the leftover beans and rice. But after being stuck on I-90 for maybe an hour, maybe more (don't know--I think I fell asleep from boredom), I decided all that hassle merited buying a full meal and making it last 'til the next day to justify the cost.
September 30, 2009
7ish, and my decision was pretty much made. Instead of cutting across Ontario to the GTA, as I had originally planned, I decided to take a route down through the U.S. Even though it was 100 miles further, I would save on gas, I would be able to drive faster on the interstates, and I would have a chance to eat some Colombian food in Chicago. Additionally I'd be able to use my phone, and I'd be able to deposit some cash in the bank that I no longer needed to carry around with the discovery that my BofA card worked without a fee at ScotiaBank. Yes, it would have been nice to drive that undriven stretch of the TransCanada, but I just wasn't up for it this time around. I'd spent a whole summer exploring new places, and I could stand for something familiar.
What do you get when you cross brushing your teeth in the car with a really funny episode of The Colbert Report??? Well, if you're lucky, just some frothy minty spit on your steering wheel, and not your car in a ditch.
Lucked out twice at the border--first, just as I reached the back of one line, an agent opened a second booth. That had never happened before, and I considered it a good omen. And I guess it was, because I was not searched, and it's always a good day when I'm not searched.
Dang, I was off my game. So preoccupied was I with getting through the week's list of store closures that I forgot to check if I needed to reshoot any North Dakota stores. Fortunately I passed by two stores in Grand Forks, and that reminded to me to check my photos. Good thing, too, because apparently I'd driven through ND a lot in the winter, and I had snow mucking up a lot of my photos.
When I returned to the 13th & Washington store I noticed a discrepancy between the store and my photo, and I soon realized that I must have shot from the parking lot of the Dairy Queen, except there was a fence in the way. I went inside to confirm that the fence had not always been there. Simple question, non-threatening. No reason for any sane and rational person to think that I was in any way going to harm Starbucks with the question. And yet, this barista chose to give me attitude. What is wrong with these baristas? And why, with the closure of over 800 Starbucks, was the company not able to purge itself of all these rude baristas???
The rudeness continued during my drive down I-29, as I called stores to confirm store closing dates. As usual, I had to suffer rude barista after rude barista. The disinterest, the annoyance, the curtness exhibited by these baristas makes me think that Starbucks should test applicants on their phone demeanor before hiring them.
Dealing with rude baristas is maddening, but the question is, was it more or less maddening than the fly invasions that I suffered. Numerous times through the day I had to risk wrecking my car or pull over in a rush in order to try and get a fly out of my car. By the fourth of fifth time I was blind with rage, and I would have risked destroying the entire planet if I that was the only way to eliminate flies from the face of the earth. Fuck reforming health care, Obama--get rid of flies!!!
Not a frustration, but a disappointment--71st St. & Shea in Scottsdale opened on Monday, meaning that I would not be able to hit 100% of the U.S., not unless a job took me west again.
Sick and tired of these people asking me what I'm taking pictures of. Fuck 'em, I'm just not going to acknowledge them anymore.
Oh, man, I've already said that I hate it when I see a person, think the person is female, and register the person as attractive and then find out he is actually male. So what about the opposite. As I sat parked in my car at a fargo store, a driver pulled up next to me, and I immediately assume the person was male. But when she came back out of the store with her coffee, I could see that not only was she female, but she was pretty attractive. How could I have gotten that so wrong???
I really had expected to reach Minneapolis much earlier, but my dawdling in Winnipeg and my reshoots in North Dakota delayed me until just past 8:00. As a result I did not find the massage with shower I was hoping for, and thus I pushed my days-without-shower count to eight. Had the weather not been cool, my odor level would have certainly pushed past homeless and into the noxious territory.
I did find good grub though, a Colombian restaurant I had patronized many times before, Los Andes, open 'til 10:00 PM. Combined with the much-lower gas prices, already my having chosen the US route was paying off.
Un-fucking-believable!!! Where do they find these baristas? I don't even think it was the fact that she, from her accent, seemed to be from Eastern Europe. No, I think it was just a poor hiring choice. All I did was ask if she knew when the nearby Loring Park store closed down (years ago). I did not expect her to remember, and it was find that she didn't, but before I left she had to go and fuck it up by leaning over the counter and asking, with a suspicious tone in her voice, why I wanted to know. Suspicion. Fucking suspicion. If they could breed suspicion out of the human race, the world would be such a better place. Anyway, I'd hung out at 22nd & Hennepin many times, and I rather liked that store, but that suspicous bitch went and ruined the store for me.
Oh, another good reason to have taken the US route to Ontario--the ability to watch How I Met Your Mother on the CBS website, because after two days I had not located a torrent to download. I don't really watch sitcoms anymore, but after hearing so many interviews with Neil Patrick Harris, and one with Jason Segel, and hearing how good the show was, I had to take a look.
September 29, 2009
Grrr... stupid hotspot throttling--my shows take forever to download in the morning. I'm always better of parked in front of somebody's house.
Hmm... perhaps I am not such a good judge of people's moods. When I arrived at the new Medicine Hat store the night before, the manager, busy preparing for the launch of Via, seemed a bit dismissive of me. However, the next morning, she was very friendly. I think I misjudged her, and that she had just been too preoccupied since she was working late getting the Via displays ready. My bad.
Oh, it's going to be a long day. Only 40 miles into a 640-mile drive to Winnipeg, and I'm already bored.
So bored that I've figure out what my next project is. I keep getting asked in interviews what I will do when I finish visiting all the Starbucks. I'm going to go back to as many Starbucks as I can and attempt to film myself having sex in or in front of each store. I'll call the site StarfucksEverywhere.cock. Okay ladies, who's in?
Geez, I don't know what happened, but I thought I was just at 6000 to 7000 miles without an oil change, when I was really at close to 10,000. At the next town, Swift Current, I scanned the highway exits and spotted a Wal-Mart with tire & lube service. The Wal-Mart is attached to the Swift Current Mall, but it's not much of a mall (is is common in these small Canadian towns), not much more than the Wal-Mart, Staples, and Safeway. No food court, and restaurant options were slim, but I lucked out in the form of a decent burger, and excellent seasoned fries, from Mama T's Bistro.
Survived the rest of the boring-ass drive and reached the Indigo Kenaston store just minutes before 9:00. Rushed in and discovered... it did not close 'til 10:00. Still, earlier was better, so I could find some grub and get to sleep. Drove up to Portage Ave and then inbound, and when I reached Broadway, just blocks from downtown, I was shaking my head in amazement that I had not seen a single Chinese restaurant. Say what, what, what???
Meanwhile, it was rather chazilly, and a light wind was blowing. Winnipeg just happens to be where I believe I spent my coldest ever night in the car, and while I was not expecting a repeat, not in September, I expected to need to run the heat for sure.
September 28, 2009
Bah. Around 3:00 or 4:00 AM I was able to get the downloads for Bored to Death and Desperate Housewives started, but not Californication or Dexter. An hour or so later I found the Californication torrent, but it did not start downloading right away, and the network connection seemed really slow--I thought it might have dropped. I should have let it go, but I went off driving for new signal. Stupid, stupid, because I knew better. I knew what would happen--I wasn't able to easily fall asleep again.
I did manage to doze off, but a bit after 6:00 I was tossing and turning so much that I just went ahead and drove downtown to get the Allstream Tower store before traffic got crazy.
Ah, I smelled it coming. I'd already taken a photo of the Allstream Tower store, back in April, which was actually a good thing because it allowed me to drive down there before 7:00 AM, before the sun was up, and park before the restrictions went into effect. Anyway, when I had photographed it, I had seen that it was that park of downtown that sees homeless people. Those kind of stores are among my least favorite, because there is always a chance I'll be mistaken for a homeless and my story treated with incredulity.
Never got to that point, though, because after I waited my turn and asked the cashier to speak to the supervisor, she nodded over to the barista behind the bar, who turned to me and said "What." Unbelievable. Every Starbucks barista, every person in customer service, ought to know that you don't say "What?" to a customer. When overseas, sometimes I got "what do you want", and I chalked it up to a difficulty with the language or a cultural issue, but I can't overlook this from an American or Canadian native English speaking barista.
I thought about e-mailing Starbucks, for about a second--it would have been a waste of time. Unlike the early years, the Starbucks that has developed of late has shown a stunning lack of interest in addressing any of the customer service concerns I've reported over the last few years. So why bother--they just don't care.
Anyway, as you can guess, I did not give the supervisor my spiel and just plunked down a twenty for a short. Had to expliciting ask for my cup discount, but they are still not using the Gold Card in Canada. Before I left, the supervisor had the nerve to try and make small talk, asking me what I was doing in Canada. I did not answer, and I was this close to going off on her, but I held my tongue.
Why do I bother watching Californication??? Nearly every episode just reminds me how good looking guys like David Duchovny can get girls with just a smile, while trolls like me have hardly a chance at all.
HOLY COW!!! This was my first budget trip to Canada since the introduction of the oatmeal. I had never paid attention to the price before, but now that I am more price conscious I was shocked to discover that it cost $3.62!!! That is WAY more expensive than in the U.S.!!!
Wow, from the Meadows store I went across the parking lot to Save-On Foods, and I decided to try the blueberry muffin. I was rather surprised to discover how good it was. I daresay that might have been the best grocery-store muffin I'd ever tasted.
A really cool residential building in Calgary across from the Hotel Arts store.
Well, of all the evil things done to me by baristas, this might be the worst. Having failed to find the cheap pasta restaurant all throughout my Calgary route, I reached the last store at the Shepherd Centre Indigo in dire need of foodstuffs. I seemed to remember a burrito place nearby, but I wasn't sure. I asked the baristas, and they said it was Mucho Burrito and said it was really good. I located the restaurant and saw that the setup was similar to Freebirds (best burritos!!!), and I was hopeful. Oh, was I, and the baristas, wrong. The burrito was one of the worst!!!
Over in Medicine Hat, which I reached despite drowsiness and dizziness, next to the Starbucks, guess what... Mucho (Nasty) Burrito!!!
Had one of my best nights of sleeping in the parking lot of the Wal-Mart, because the wind was strong in Medicine Hat that night. I love sleeping in the car when the wind is strong. I like hearing it, and I like feeling the wind gusts shake the car.
September 27, 2009
Woke up around 8:35 with a really sore right shoulder. I had started feeling it in the wee hours, a pain between my shoulder an my neck. That night had been the coldest of my trip, although not nearly as cold as temperatures I'd seen earlier in the year. Still, I wondered if the cold caused my body to tense up during the night as I slept.
Just a few miles east of Jasper traffic came to a slowdown. The reason? People stopping on the shoulder to take photos of those deer thingies, both males, females, and offspring. I was glad I'd waited until morning to finish the drive, because it was beautiful.
From highway 16 I needed to head north on highway 40, but I detoured a few miles east to Hinton so I could find some grub. At the Tim Hortons I saw something interesting, a sign for the breakfast sandwich stated that for an extra 35 cents you could add "processed cheese". Yes, the sign specifically stated that the cheese was processed. Why would they do this--knowing the cheese is process can't possibly make it more appealing. I wonder if this was mandated by the government.
Heh. I went to high school with a Benjamin Moore.
Also stopped at the Safeway, and I spotted a different brand of probiotic yogurt called Eating Right. Pretty good stuff.
Somewhere along highway 40 a helicopter seemed to approach me, getting lower and lower in the sky. Just as I was about to pass under it the copter slowed and turned. I could not see where it had gone in my rearview mirrors, and after a couple of miles my paranoia got the better of me and I had to pull over to make sure the copter wasn't following me.
I'd never really cared for Jay-Z. Something about him bugged me. But with the release of his latest album, The Blueprint 3, I heard no fewer than four reports about Jay-Z on NPR! Clips from two of the album's songs were played so often that I decided to check them out on YouTube, and I decided that the beats, for "Run This Town" and "DOA" were pretty darn good. Not as good as the RZA's beats, of course--he's pretty much the best--but still worth listening to. Can't speak for the rest of album though, until I have time to listen (not ready to buy it yet).
2:00 PM, shoulder still hurting.
Aha, more terms for what those deer animal thingies might have been, if not deer. Elk, or caribou. Yes, yes, I know, my knowledge of the animal kingdom sucks.
Slim pickins in downtown Grande Prairie, partly on account of its being Sunday, so I had to settle for a burger from a place called Wally's Kitchen. What the heck--how could I really resist a name like Wally's Kitchen?
Despite evil traffic's attempt to fuck me, I arrived at the Northtown Mall Indigo store a few minutes before they closed. They had already dumped the coffee, and while that usually meant drinking a shot of espresso, the impending nationawide introduction of Via afforded me the opportunity to consult with the Advisory Board and create a new subrule. They had samples of Via to offer me, and thus it was ruled that if the Via is prepared with hot water from the store, drinking it satisfies the requirements for visiting the store.
Afterwards I went across the street to say hi to the supervisor's girlfriend, because he said she would be excited to meet me. Regrettably it was not a situation like in the recently-released film Extract, which is too bad, because she was really cute. Unfortunately, rather than seeming excited, or even interested, that I had come to visit, her attitude was more like, "meh". That made me feel a little awkward, because it's not like I needed to meet yet another excited fan--I had just been trying to oblige the supervisor who had hooked me up with a sample.
September 26, 2009
Good timing, in that by the time the sky was light enough for some new photos in Kelowna (around 7:00 AM), Smallville had finished downloading. Unfortunately my mind at 4:00 AM, when I woke up to check for available downloads, is not as sharp, and I forgot about Dollhouse and Law & Order. Couldn't stick around to download those, but I confess I did dawdle before leaving for Penticton.
Obligatory Tim Hortons, but with a twist. Heading south on 97 I spotted a sign for Bliss Bakery in a town called Peachland. Since I had time, I pulled off the highway and ordered a blueberry muffin from their too, to compare. Twice as expensive, but a vastly superior muffin. There was something in the recipe that I didn't quite like, but it was still a far superior muffin. How can you argue with a superior muffin?
The Dairyland brand yogurt that I picked up at Wal-Mart, on the other hand, was far from superior. There was something about its consistency that I did not like, and it was too sweet.
Despite my dislike for having to double-back, I have to admit that the drive along Okanagan Lake to and from Penticton was beautiful and well worth repeating.
Oh, you should check out this site, Starbucks Melody.
Dang, what's up with downtown Kamloops. Checked out a couple of restaurants, and their prices were outrageous. Hadn't put any money in the meter, and I did not want to risk a ticket, so I abandoned my search and decided to try another part of town. Hardly any non-corporate restaurants in the area of Valley View, however, and none that looked appealing so I headed back down town and drove down a different street, Landsdowne, where I spotted Senor Froggy. Well, the name sold me. I did not actually expect the food to be food, but with a name like Senor Froggy, I had to give it a try. As usual, I look for the burritos first, but out of the blue I changed my mind and went for the chimichanga. It was still expensive, just under $10, in part because I asked to have the regular chicken breast substituted for the pre-made chicken mix that included onions and peppers. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the chimichanga was pretty darn good. Would have been better if I had eaten it while it was hot, but Orchard Bank decided to fuck me again and block my card at the gas pump. I hate those card fuckers for doing that. It's just a gas purchase, not that much money. They should let it go through first and then call the cardholder to verify!
I hadn't really been in a hurry, but shortly after crossing into Alberta I came across some flashing lights. I had not noticed it on my map before, but my route from Kamloops to Grand Prairie took me through Jasper National Park. The sun had set not even an hour earlier, and I wished I had not spent so much time waiting for photographs earlier, because it would have been nice to drive through the park during daylight.
Actually, as soon as I looked at my map again and took into account the time zone I decided it was late enough to stop for the night, in the town of Jasper. As I expected, because it was a tourist town in a national park, the food was more expensive, $7 for my Chinese food when it should have been closer to $5. Found a parking spot in a residential area, next to a park, and in the middle of the night, 3:53, I awoke to see a strange shape moving in the distance. My first thought was that it was a moose, and I drove my car up the block to get a closer look, hoping it would be a female moose, because #567 on my life list is to have sex with a moose. Upon closer inspection, however, it turned out to be a deer, with the big antlers, male, a buck I guess. I've often seen deer in wooden areas, but never a male with antlers like that.
September 25, 2009
So it continues, too many Starbucks baristas' unwillingness to be receptive to feedback. Whenever I have mentioned that it is more environmental not to put the oatmeal, sugar, and spoon in a bag unless the customer request it, I never get an acknowledgement from the baristas, just argument.
Top Pot in Bellevue, my fifth.
No delay, no inspection at the border.
Walked into the new Surrey store skittish about who the supervisor might be, because of my extremely negative experience with a tall blonde barista (who would not give her name) back in April. Sure enough, the supervisor was tall, blonde, and female, but fortunately there was also an assistant manager, and I was able to speak to her instead.
NOOOOOOOOOOO!!! Nordel Annex was supposed to open Thursday, but they are still waiting on permits! If I wait until Saturday, I will have to burn half a day, and if the store still doesn't open, like not until Monday, I'll be burning a lot of time for nothing, because I cannot wait until Monday--that's just too long.
Ach! Wasted a buck on parking. If I had known that the Bental Centre store was so close to a set of doors, I could have gotten in and out in three minutes--I didn't need 12.
Okay, they really must be screwing with me. Somebody removed A PERIOD, A FUCKING PERIOD, from the name of the "Pender Reloc." store, and as a result I wasted my time negotiating traffic, finding parking, and sprinting to the store (getting sweaty in the process). Same store. Why why why why why??
When I saw the name Caribbean Hut Pizza Express, I couldn't help but cut across two lanes of (stopped) traffic to check out their menu. No small portion of oxtails, just the larger $10.99 portion, more than I preferred to spend, especially with how slow the job-search was going, but since I'd not had lunch, I decided go for it. I probably wasn't going to find a shower for days anyway, so I'd be saving the money on that. Plus I had an extra $105 in my budget in Canadian currency that I'd forgotten about.
As I sat in traffic, crawling along the Transcanada towards Surrey and out of greater BC, I suddenly realized something. I checked my map, and sure enough, one of the stores I had left in Edmonton was in the Allstream Tower, not open on weekends. So I actually could afford to wait around... if I knew the store would open. The manager had given me his card with the phone number, but when I called, just before 5:00 PM, I got not answer. They had probably left for the day, perhaps because they learned the needed permits would not be forthcoming. I decided I would have to keep going despite the possibility that I might not make it back to Vancouver before the store closed down.
Besides that worry, if I had visited that Nordel Annex store, I might have actually had a shot at completing Canada before a new store opened.
September 24, 2009
5:55, rush from the Wal-Mart to the Starbucks to start downloads, as I figured I had an hour still before the sun came up. 7:15 awoken by some kid's voice, and it looked like by the time I changed and did all my morning stuff I'd have enough light for a photo.
Dang, what's up with Montana. At both stores I visited I got a bad vibe from the supervisor and decided to simply stealth the stores. Didn't matter so much to me anymore, though. The amount of money I'd spend if I had to stealth all the remaining US/Canada stores would be negligible, and well worth the expense to avoid the scorn, derision, disdain, and sometime hostility that occassionally resulted when I introduced myself and what I was doing.
As I was leaving town looking left and right for a breakfast place I spotted a passerby and asked her. She directed me about a half mile away to the Montana Coffee Traders. No biscuits, but some of the best bacon I had tasted in recent memory.
I'm going to be on the WHYY show Chef's Table this weekend.
Hot date with Starbucks Melody where I experienced my first "pour-over" (you can't even imagine what that involves). Micro-celebritydom has its advantages, and I was treated to dinner at the Broadway Grill (or Grille). As is typical for me when someone else is paying, I went for the special, the meat loaf. While I enjoyed the ambience of that part of Seattle, much better than the vibe given off at the soul food restaurant Thompson's Point of View, the latter's meat loaf is far superior.
Finished dinner in time to check the reviews of Extract on RottenTomatoes, and I decided that the 67% was worth the trip given that I loved Office Space and also Jason Bateman's recent work. Entertaining, but far from the hilarity that was Office Space.
September 23, 2009
Grrr... it's not just that neither of the two bagel shops I found in central Boise had fried eggs, but more the look I got from the cashiers when I expressed my disapproval. No apology, but rather a scornful look, as if I was doing something wrong bay asking for a superior product. Customer service really has declined these days.
Dang, I dawdled way too much in Boise, not even imagining that I would not reach Kalispell before the sun set, let alone before the store closed for the night, which turned out to be really early, 8:00 PM. I finally realized my time trouble as I near Idaho Falls, and to save time I just ordered a burger (unusual for me) at the restaurant right next to the gas station and across from the Starbucks (where I needed to check my e-mail, in case of job opportunities).
FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK!!! Just 3:20 in the afternoon, having slept 10 hours the night before, yet dozing off with 100 miles to Butte still. Why, why, why???
Not even close. Construction on US-93 put me in Kalispell well past 9:00 PM, so all I could do was find some more soup (just $4 for a huge container, plus a lot of rice) and find a place to camp out, at the Wal-Mart along with a dozen campers and other cars. It wasn't even a 24-hour Wal-Mart, but the parking lot was lively with activity (if you consider campers sleeping an activity).
September 22, 2009
Wow. I've always known that Oregon is a beautiful state, but I have usually been too preoccupied with Starbucks to notice. Specifically regarding I-84, I have either been in a hurry or driving at the wrong time of day to see any really good sights. Well, as I hoped and expected, the time finally came when I had a spectacularly beautiful drive along I-84 eastbound. I first noticed the scenery at mile marker 23, a combination of the river, the sky, the hills, and the grass. I wish I could have taken a photo, but I would have had to stop on the shoulder, and that is always a risk. Not because of passing cars, but because of passing cops, aka CWB, criminals with badges. Even pulling over for a photo puts me at risk of being detained, questions, abused, and arrested if a cop or trooper happens by and happens to be in a bad mood. So no photo, unfortunately--fuck tha police.
On a lighter note, much of the rest of the drive, along the Hood River, was great.
I rolled into Boise later than I had expected, partly because of the time difference, and it's a good thing I had not dawdled any more earlier, or stopped for lunch, because that first Starbucks actually closed at 6:00 PM!!! Business was slow, and I was immediately glad that I was making the effort to clean up outstanding stores, as that particular one seemed like a good candidate for the third wave of closures that I expect will come next year.
Having failed to find a massage/shower in Portland, I didn't really expect anything from Boise. I hoped that European Day Spa, where I had had a superb massage in 2007, would still be open that late, but it turned out to be shut down for good. Bah. I had all but given up when I finally find a therapist working until 8:00, and not far away. I typically would have asked for 30 minutes, while traveling on a budget, but she was running a special, 90 minutes for 55 (Winter loves him some bargains), and she was really good. By the time I finished it was past 9:00 PM, and I did not want a full meal before bed, so I stopped into Confucious Restaurant and found me an even better bargain, a decent portion of chicken and rice soup for $2.39!!! Remember that, boys and girls, if you are in Boise, Confucious Restaurant on Fairview.
Dreamt that I was at the new stealth store in Seattle.
September 21, 2009
Weird. Around 5:30 AM I moved from the residential street in Fairfield over to parking lot of the Starbucks on Olive, just to avoid being seen once the sun came up and being hassled by those California cops who tend to be dicks. As often happens when I try to go back to sleep so close to dawn, it took a while, and when I finally did slumber, I had false awakening dreams. In one, a reasonably attractive Starbucks barista knocked on my window and gave me her phone number. Never happens in real life. But anyway, when I finally got up and went into the Starbucks to get some ice for my water, the barista at the register bore some resemblance to the girl in my dream. Weird.
WHAT THE HELL??? On Sunday evening's news headlines NPR fucked up the name off the brilliant show Pushing Daisies by calling it "Pushing Up Daisies". And on Monday I finally got around to listening to a Talk of the Nation interview with Jasmine Guy, from last Tuesday, and she also refers to the show as "Pushing Up Daisies". How do these people fuck up the names of brilliant names like that. Same goes for Watchmen. It's not "The Watchmen", bitches, it's just Watchmen!!!
By coincidence I stopped at Medford for a reshoot and that barista who had helped me out in April, by selling me a DoubleShot after closing, was working. And then, up in Albany, at the store that I had mistakenly thought was licensed, I ran into the barista who had truly saved my bacon by e-mailing to tell me I had miscategorized it. If it had not been for her, who knows if I would ever have gotten that store.
Nearly five days since a shower, time to find a massage. Started making calls to Portland therapists right after I finished my soup and fried rice from Lee's Wok. Didn't get through even one phone call, though, before high drama broke out. The small green Acura in front of me started swerving across lanes, right into my path. I tried to get around the car, but it seemed to be inentionally blocking my way. After I swerved across two lanes and passed the car I discovered the problem--texting! That bitch was texting!!! I swerved towards her, honked, and waved, to try and get her to realize what she was doing, but she barely glanced up from her phone. So I dropped back and called it in to 911--turned out mine wasn't the only call.
Highway hijinks aside, it appeared that the time, nearly 7:00, was too late to find a reputable therapist, at least of the listings I saw. My timing was still perfect, however, for seeing The Informant, or, as I like to call it, Ocean's One.
Good to be back in Portland, one of my favorite cities, if only for a short while. Just driving around gave me a good vibe.
New TV season was kicking into high gear, with the Heroes and House premieres, and that meant my nightly habits were more involved, as I needed to find wi-fi most nights. Pretty easy in a city like Portland, though.
September 20, 2009
Some reshoots on the way to Scrabble in Mountain View.
Same deal as the night before. After stopping in San Francisco for Colombian food from El Majahual, I wanted to drive at least as far as the portions of I-80 that would likely be heavy Monday morning. I could have driven all the way out to I-5, but I did not know which rest areas, if any, would be open, so I stopped in Fairfield. I was looking forward to getting out of California and their budget-problem-fueled rest area closures.
September 19, 2009
Woke up disappointed to find the sky overcast, but relieved that I was finally feeling better--my congestion had lessened, and I had no hint of a headache. Could have slept a bit more, but my mother woke me up with a phone call because she had not heard from me yet. I kept telling her to check my blog, but she has not managed to reach that level of tech-savviness yet.
In my experience, cafes with interesting names have often served me food that I ended up liking. Now I'll admit that "Big John's Cafe", on Artesia Boulevard, is not the most creative of names, but it caught my eye nevertheless. Can't say why, but I'm sure it has absolutely nothing to do with a latent homosexual desired to a big burly bearded man, as any man named "Big John" is wont to be. Anyway, as I hoped, buttermilk biscuits were on the menu, and they were pretty good. And big. The whole breakfast was big, suitable for "Big John", I guess. Three eggs, four slices of bacon, two biscuits, and plenty of potatoes, all for $6.53.
AARRGHH!!! WHY CAN'T I CHILL IN MY CAR WITH THE WINDOWS DOWN WITHOUT BEING INVADED BY FLIES!!! I HATE FLIES!!! DIE DIE DIE!!!
Very interesting. After taking some shots of the Hermosa & 13th store, pulled my car in front, went inside to brush, and when I came out discovered that the car in front of mine had left. I had minutes, maybe only seconds, to get a better photo, and there was no time to find a legal parking space where I could move my car. I had to park right across the street, in the red zone, and try to get my shots off the before that pesky motorcycle cop came back around. Had to keep waiting for stupid cars to clear the intersection, though, and in those few minutes I saw the cop pull a u-turn at the next block and come back--I knew where he was headed. I walked back over to my car even before he had dismounted, and I explained myself. After a few seconds of listening to my prattling the cop said "Make it fast--you're killing my business."
Well, there you go. I've often heard callers into radio shows complain that municipalities issue tickets to generate revenue, and I often heard city officials claim that they are just looking out for public safety. Well, this officer practically admitted that he was ticketing for the money.
The Starbucks shirt has it's privileges. Show up at a Starbucks with a cup, ask for a short coffee, and a good percentage of the time the barista will ring up a refill. Then, to be honest, point out that the coffee is not technically a refill. A good percentage of the time, the barista will just shrug it off and charge you the refill price anyway.
"Octogenerian scary librarian looking quite hairy in the area of her derriere." See--I know I could be a rap star if I just had charisma and a deeper voice.
I had heard about this months earlier, that California would be closing some rest areas because of their budget crisis. Well, I was finally affected, as I discovered a rest area north of Bakersfield closed and had to keep driving. There was another rest area north of Kettleman City, but I had no idea if it would be open or not, so I just went back to the parking lot of the Chevron adjacent to the Starbucks. A few hours later I was awoken by loud Latin-tinged music, specifically the bass. It was Saturday, and there was some party going on down in the valley, far away, but I guess with the dry air the sound carried. I tried moving away, to the other side of the highway, but I could still hear the sound. Sound doesn't usually keep me from sleeping, as I sleep at rest areas with cars and people passing by all the time, even trains, but there was something about the bass that got to me.
I need to see Heathers. Why is it never screened near me?
My latest loves--Diablo Cody and Ellen Page. Would the world be better if humans could be bred to be free of desire?
September 18, 2009
7:00 AM, sunny day, and in no rush to get anywhere--a good opportunity to reshoot some nearby stores until the sun got high in the sky. Not a perfect opportunity--that would be Sunday or a holiday, but there were still opportunities for photo improvement.
I felt a genuine relief as I drove from parking lot to parking lot without seeing security, as was nearly everypresent in Chile and also much of Europe.
Oh, wait, I spoke too soon. Rosecrans & Ocean Gate, in Hawthorne, has security. Irritating. In my opinion, of the shopping center needs security, it should be built somewhere safer.
FINALLY!!! What a relief. You have to understand that every store listed on the Starbucks web site that has not yet opened represents an additional piece of data I have to track. After calling week after week to find out if Fairplex & I-10 in Pomona had opened, for something like six months, or longer, I finally stopped calling. I took the store off my list, but it had not been taken down from the Starbucks website. And whaddayaknow, it finally opened, on August 26th.
Will the categorization nightmares every end? Now I've got a store in a Macy's in Atlanta that is run by Starbucks (which is confusing enough because some are licensed out) but will close on Monday and reopen run by the Macy's.
Got some Scrabble practice in with Cesar, and after three games my congestion had me beat. I passed on joining him and friends for a movie and just parked next to a park not far from his apartment.
September 17, 2009
6:49, sleepy, wanted to stay in bed, but I had no wait to guarantee that I wouldn't sleep 'til 8:30 or later, which would put my schedule at risk. Another problem was I wasn't sure whether my flight was at 11:10 or 11:40, so I had to boot up the laptop and check (after going out to the lobby to ask the attendant to reinitialize the router, as I had done pretty much every day). But I should have double-checked the schedule twice before, because by the time I pulled up the Copa schedule, I was wide awake and couldn't fall asleep again.
On the way down into the metro station I noticed something I wish I had seen days earlier, a vendor selling these friend tortilla-like things. Didn't quite catch what they were called, just that they were made of some type of flour. They were pretty good, and even had a slight similarity to ojaldres. Damn, I wish I had discovered them them sooner.
Arrived at the airport and checked-in early enough that I had time to explore options for visiting the store on the national side. The first step, as always, was to ask to speak to a security supervisor or manager, and, as I expected, I was denied. The supervisor called her manager, but he did not even bother to come to talk to me before denying my request. There was still the option of trying to buy a ticket--I had tried this in Belfast, only to discover that there were no cheap last-minute fares. I thought that I might leverage the fact that I already had a ticket on Copa, to perhaps make a change that would route me through another city, but Copa only flys from Santiago to its origin city of Panama. Next I inquired at the information desk about low-cost local airlines, and I was directed to LAN. I went over to the counter and asked for the cheapest ticket going anywhere, at the same time explaining that I did not actually want to fly, just to visit the airport. The agent came up with a $143 ticket to Conception. I figured that in the future I could probably get that ticket cheaper online, and perhaps on sale, but as I walked away I quickly changed my mind and decided that $143 was actually a small price to pay relative to the $959 airfare to Chile and additional trip expenses. In fact, when you consider that I spent $1400 to get that Prince George store, and also that there was the risk that this store would shut down before I returned to Chile, $143 seemed like a bargain. Heck, I bet a therapy session costs more than $143, and by going ahead and visiting the store I would avoid any need for therapy if the store shut down. Finally, by applying some perverse logic, I figured that by passing on that stripper's offer of sex for $188, I had effectively saved that money and could spend it on a more meaningful activity--not visiting a Starbucks per se, but visiting a Starbucks and eliminating the risk of losing a piece of my soul.
Oh, there was also the exchange issue. Exchanging my 51,360 pesos at the airport would yield $90.21, or possibly only $90 (some, or perhaps most, booths do not deal in foreign coins), while spending them would yield $96.61.
Ach!!! Upon looking closer at the receipt, it appears I was charged an additional 8,000 pesos as a fee for printing a boarding pass! Bastards!!!
The throwaway ticket.
Meanwhile, something I had never seen before, agents hawking medical insurance, for the flight, in the terminal.
31 for 31 free samples in Chile, and very friendly baristas overall. In fact, one supervisor suggested putting an apron on me and having me pretend to be a barista.
There's might be something about either the Chilean mentality or the perhaps the way in which baristas are trained in Chile, because of the 31 samples, 5 of them where proper coffee tastings. It could have also been my use of the verb "catar" and the noun "cata", although later on I started using the words "prueba" and "muestra" instead. Anyway, the tastings were not a big deal because I had given myself that extra day to finish all the stores rather than cutting it close, but during that last tasting I began to worry about my flight, which had already started boarding.
Wow, of all the bad ideas in the history of mankind, dubbing movies into other languages has to be one of the worst. I missed The Soloist when it was released, in part because I was really busy at the time, and in part because of mediocre reviews. Still, it would have been nice to see the film on the plane, with six hours to kill (forgot, yet again, to buy a book). But as soon as I heard some inane voice coming out of the real actresses mouth, with the lips movements not matching, I took of my headphones. I did not even want to risk the disgust I would feel when I heard the dubbed versions of Jamie Foxx or Robert Downey Junior.
The film might have helped take my mind off my nasal congestion and mild headache. My congestion had not gotten that much worse, except for some dripping, but for the time being every sniffle and sneeze was going to make me worry about that swiny flu thingie.
Soup week continued from Chile into Panama, as the chicken soup seemed to be the only appealing meal on the menu at Tierra Firme, the only restaurant open in the terminal.
Got lucky for a third time (out of the four total flights) and had three seats to myself. I wasn't exactly sleepy, but I tried to sleep anyway in the hopes that whatever bug I had would go away.
Wow, the meal was beef with beans and rice!!! As far as I could remember, that was the first time ever that I had been served beans and rice on an airplane.
Managed to surge ahead of enough people to get on the first shuttle to the terminal, at which point it was easy to beat all the other passengers to the immigration counters, but in my fatigue and haze I got into the longer line. After all that rushing, I felt a little silly watching the passengers behind me casually saunter into the shorter line. Still, I got out quickly enough, and I caught a huge break by avoiding the customs line. Its length prompted me to ask an agent if I needed to wait, given that I had only a carry-on bag, and he just asked me some questions and let me through the rope barrier.
Got lucky again and found a place to park right outside Lot C, next to a 24-hour Burger King.
September 16, 2009
A headache had started to develop the night before, and it became worse throughout the night. I felt constant thirst, and I hoped the headache was due to a combination of dehydration and withdrawal, as I had only had three samples on Tuesday, a big from from 7 on Monday, 8 on Sunday, and 9 on Saturday. My nose was also more congested than the previous days. Again, I was hopeful, as I had been told that this was a heavy allergy season, but the thought was always in the back of my mind that I had finally caught that swiny flu thingie.
The online metro map showed stations near the Mall Arauco Maipu, but unfortunately those were still under construction. I had to instead take the metro to the Pajaritos station, find my way out to Avenida Pajaritos, and then figure out which bus to take. I asked a man standing at the stop, and he seemed somewhat sure that the 404e would get me there. After waiting 10 minutes without seeing the bus, but seeing all these buses going to Plaza Maipu, I decided that I'd be better off walking from there. Wasn't sure where to get off, though, so when I saw a sign reading "Mall Maipu", I figured I had to be close. Wrong. I walked and walked and all I saw was an outdoor market. People kept telling me I was heading towards the mall, though, and eventually I did get there, but I regretted not having taken the bus.
A funny coincidence. As I walked down that street wondering how far the mall was, my need to kiwi grew stronger and stronger, even though I had already kiwied and had not had anything more to drink. I passed a sort of alley-like street, behind some houses, and just as I started to wonder if I would find enough privacy (not that it seemed to matter), I spotted a sign that read "NO ORINAR. SOLO PARA LOS PEROS." Funnier still, not 30 seconds up the sidewalk was a small dog, doing just that.
No sign on the doors prohibiting photos, or anything else for that manner, but I still found an angle from which the ladies at the info booth could not see me, and I managed to get a decent shot off about 2 seconds before a guard came around a corner.
Holy shit that was one of the most amazing things I've ever seen, and yet disturbing at the same time. A stupid dog ran straight into the path of an oncoming car and was hit dead on. The impact was so strong that the dog literally slid down the pavement, possibly spinning around a couple of times. Despite this, the dog immediately got up and continued across the road, and then down the side walk, not even limping or giving any indication that he had been hit. A group of kids of the other side of the street were just as amazed as I was.
The bus back towards the metro was the busiest I'd ridden in Chile, and when I boarded, from the front, the driver pointed with her thumb towards the back. I could not make it to the back from inside the bus, so I stepped off and rushed to the back door. I expected to find another bip card reader there, but there was none. I looked towards the driver to see if she was going to give me any instructions, but I saw no indications of that. I was never able to make it to the front to swipe my card, and by the time I reached the Las Rejas station I figured there was no point.
Not far from the station I spotted a restaurant called Palermo and ordered something called cazuela de vacuno. It turned out to be beef soup, with corn and that zapallo thing. Oh, and some rice. Had I known, I would not have ordered an extra side of rice, but the waiter neglected to tell me when I asked what was in the soup. Regardless, the soup was excellent, and the bread that accompanied the meal was some of the best I'd had at any restaurant anywhere. So far, Chile was getting a thumbs up on the food.
While I ate something happened that was extremely strange, by which I mean unusual, by which I mean rare, by which I mean it had never before happened to me. A person, wearing a hot pink sweater, entered the restaurant. The person was carrying a pair of plastic bags and seemed unsure. The person passed by me, and then, a minute later, came back, stood next to my small table, and asked if I was alone. I was taken aback and replied "Disculpe?" The person repeated the question, and I replied, "Si, por que." The person suggested that we eat together. I had no idea what was transpiring, and I replied that I was in a hurry to catch a bus to Vina del Mar. The person said "no te preocupes" and took a seat behind me, which was annoying because it meant I had to keep a closer eye on my backpack.
Now, had the person been an attractive female, I would have been glad for her to join me. And the person might have been considered attractive, except for the masculine features in the face that made the gender uncertain, at least to me. I will categorically state that from a purely rational viewpoint, it should not matter whether the person was male or female, if that person has attractive features. But I seem to have a bias, perhaps a prejudice, towards knowing whether a person is male or female, and I am bothered when I am uncertain. I'm not saying this is rational, but I am not wholly rational no matter how hard I try to be.
Furthermore, I have no idea what the person wanted, and I had to be suspicous of the person's motives. Perhaps this is common, in Chile, to ask a perfect stranger if he wants company during a meal. Or perhaps the person was a thief. Or perhaps the person was mentally ill. There did seem to be something off about the person, but feel extra responsible to try to give the benefit of the doubt given my own peculiarities and the way they are perceived by others.
As I walked out of the restaurant, I glance at the person once more. Nope, still unsure of the gender.
Getting to Vina del Mar turned out to be easy as pie. Upon entering the Pajaritos bus station a video monitor indicated that a bus was leaving in a couple of minutes. I walked past the booths and righ to anden 8 and asked the drivers about the cost. 2800 one way, but 5000 round trip--not a bad deal at all.
I had heard horror stories about South and Central American buses, and I was expecting a rickety old thang driven by a crazy speeding driver. Not the case at all. The bus had very comfortable seats, that reclined even, and I was able to sleep most of the way (with my bag firmly between my feet). The bus even had a restroom.
I wasn't sure if the Google Map I had on my screen would cover enough area for me to find the Starbucks easily, but I need not have worried. Vina del Mar has numbered ordered streets, east/west, north/south, and finding the Starbucks was a breeze.
Well, that was neat. 29 stores into Chile, I finally met a barista who knew of me, because he had met me at the Fuencarral store (one of the two) in Spain in January 2005! This was particularly fortiutous because the just-opened store was packed. There was a line longer than any I had seen in Chile, and it did not look to be slowing down.
Obligatory seaside shots.
The return was not quite a smooth. I arrived back at the station right in time for the 5:15 bus, but it was full. But all I had to do then was go back to the counter, and I was assigned a seat on the 5:30 bus. That ride took a bit longer--not sure why. The bus did stop at least once to led a pastry vendor onboard, but it was still well past 7:00 when we reached the outskirts of Santiago only to get stuck in traffic.
Didn't really matter, because I really needed to have left no later than 5:00 in order to have another crack at the museum, to see the second floor. Missed that opportunity, but actually I wanted to arrive early for another reason, to take advantage of a card I'd been given while passing an building that contained all sort of offices for medical and body treatments. The card offered a 30-minute massage for just 5,950 pesos, a price I could not pass up. Unfortunately I was too late for an appointment, but the same girl who had given me the card led me to another place nearby. The "box", as the therapist called it, was tiny, just a small slice of an tiny office, and the table was cramped, but 10,000 pesos for nearly an hour of massage is a great price.
Final night in Santiago, last chance to try the Chinese food. The first restaurant I found was way too smoky--oh, I forgot to mention that Chile still allows smoking in all sorts of public places, even down in the kitchen and bar of the hostel. Furthermore, I wasn't sure if the menu included fried rice, because neither of the two owner's Spanish was good enough to explain to me what "arroz chaufan" was. Fortunately at the next restaurant was a waitress who appeared to be Chilean, and based on her explanation of the rice I decided to go for the white rice and the "sopa howchan", which was like egg flower soup. Not bad, but far from great.
Not quite 10 PM yet, so I was able to take advantage of the reduced admission, 3,000 pesos, at the nearby club, Kim.
September 15, 2009
8:26, interview, Florida Mall, job search
Florida Mall was easy to shoot, because it was earlier in the day, and the store was all the way at the end of the mall, and perhaps also because there were fewer guards, although there there still quite a few. Plaza Vespucio, not far away, was a different story. The guards, wearing bright red uniforms (some with Candian- mounty-style hats), were everywhere, and one was stationed on a platform very near the Starbucks. After much skullduggery, I managed to get one crappy shot from a lousy angle that was out of his view, and I quickly went into the Starbucks to copy it onto my laptop. While continuing my job search I kept an eye on the guard, and I repeatedly saw him conferring with other guards, all of who talked into their radios quite frequently. When I finished sending off resumes, I went back outside to find that a guard and another member of the mall staff conferring, right in front of the store. I sat down in the rotunda-like common area and waited for them to leave. At that point I could have shot from behind a column, but from that angle the Starbucks Coffee sign was blocked. Since I already had one shot locked down, I went ahead and shot right in front of the guard to see what would happen. He said nothing. Interesting.
Testing the guard to see what he would do.
On Avenida Tobalaba, I stumbled across an interestingly-named spa, Eros. Despite the name there were no sexy hijinks going on inside. In fact, the massage room was not closed off, but had an open ceilin and a sliding door. Because it was Tuesday, the price for a half hour was just 8000 pesos, or $15! I had not seen a price that low since Panama.
The Museo de Arte Contemporaneo stayed open 'til 7:00, so I had time to check it out. Not much time, but given that the admission was just 600 pesos, I didn't care. Even if I just had to speed through all the rooms, it was worth the price to see if the museum was worth revisiting with more time. I was disappointed that the museum featured on Chilean artists, but I was thrilled when I found two rooms devoted to a photographer, Lola Falcon. Though I was visiting Chile, I was most fascinated by her photographs of a 1940s New York and Paris. Given the nature of my photography, I could relate to her photos of city buildings.
Incidentally, there would seem to be no boundaries to these Chilean men's penchant for urinating anywhere. As I entered the museum there was a skateboarder relieving himself in a corner of the steps leading up to the building.
Not far from the museum I passed a restaurant advertising itself as Caribbean. I quickly rushed in to find out if they had green plantains, but they did not. Nor did they have yucca. I mentioned to the host that this was typical Caribbean fare. He replied that Chileans did not eat much of those foods, which is why the restaurant did not serve them. I left grumbling, wondering what is the point of opening an ethnic restaurant if you are not going to offer the food typical of that ethnicity???
Just when I had assumed that--A) Santiago had hardly any strip clubs; and B) None of the clubs opened earlier than 10:00 PM--I happened to be walking down Miraflores when I was beckoned into a club by a doorman. Inside, a dancer and a waiter gave me a pretty hard sell, and that pretty much convinced me to leave, although I wasn't planning on staying anyhow, not until I had a chance to find food and to do some googling. When I got online later, I still had trouble finding anything that looked like a page of reviews for strip clubs in Chile, but I did find a discussion forum on which one poster reported that some of the clubs were dangerous, and advised against going alone. Karin did not seem like a dangerous club, but there was definitely something going on. While I was outside talking to the doorman, a shady looking young man stood nearby. Then, another man came over to the doorman and pointed down the street, where several carabineros on motorcycles were parked. Not sure what that was all about, but I did not like it.
Incidentally, the dancer inside was quite opening about pointing out that sex could be had in the private rooms/booths. I should have asked how much, just out of curiosity, even though it wasn't something I was particularly interested in.
If I had had to guess, my guess would have been (based on nothing substantive, really) that downtown Santiago would be dead at night. I could not have been more wrong. Between 7:00 and 8:00 the streets were pretty lively.
I figured to continue my exploration of Chinese food across the world, and as I walked around downtown, checking out the atmosphere, I kept my eye out for any restaurants (I had already passed one, but I wasn't hungry yet). Before spotting Chinese, however, a Peruvian restaurant caught my eye. I was mostly interested in seeing if the menu included tostones, but I was out of luck there. Still, I figured I'd try something Peruvian, and I decided the soup, (either cazuela or consome), creole style (a la criollo, I think), seemed interesting. Ended up not being very good, though. More interesting was the Depeche Mode, Violator playing, and the free wi-fi.
Is she dissing me???
September 14, 2009
Could have gotten up shortly before 8:00, but I was ahead of schedule and deserved to sleep in, plus also I wanted to wait until 9:00 AM to see if I heard from a recruiter about a possible interview. I ended up getting up at 8:29, and when I returned from the shower I did receive that e-mail I was expecting. Before leaving I had to figure out some logistics, to check the sound quality via Skype using the hostel's microphone (because I had forgotten mine) in both the lobby and in my room. My room was of course quieter, but the wi-fi signal was also weaker.
Just the night before I had been commenting to my mother that the traffic in Santiago did not seem that bad. Well, I had forgotten that I was seeing the city on Saturday and Sunday. Monday morning was a different manner, and the street leading from the hostel to the main intersection was slammed with cars, as was the arterial leading towards the city center.
Mm... perfectly good orange juice from a lady out on the street, for just 500 pesos, better quality at a third of the Starbucks price. And because of the temperature, there was no need of ice. I imagine it would not be as good in the middle of summer, but at this time of year, it was perfect.
Ach--just as I feared, too many people in front of the Interamericana store to get a clean shot. I had tried on Saturday, but two ladies were cleaning the patio and washing the windows. I waited about 10-15 minutes for them to finish, but it seemed they would be out there a while.
Cool metal thing at Ciudad Empresarial.
Again at the urging of several baristas, I took a bus to Ciudad Empresarial, and for the third time, the ride and locating of the Starbucks turned out to be easy as pie. Outside, the guard eyed me, but he said nothing as I took photos. The return, however, was a different story. It appeared from the Google map that a street called El Salto would lead me all the way down to an area very close to Baquedano, but I had not looked at the map closely enough. A ways down, El Salto ended, and Avenida Peru took over. I did not realize this until I had walked many blocks down Peru, and because I still thought El Salto was the correct street, I kept asking people how to get back. Many blocks later, I inquired again and learned that El Salto had ended, and that it was actually Avenida Peru, then Avenida Dominica, that would lead me back to Baquedano. AARRGHH!!! The downside of not having a map. Not really a problem, because I was in no hurry, but my legs and feet sure took a beating.
Besides the distance, another problem with taking El Salto was the fear. Yes, the neighborhood appeared rough, but that wasn't my worry. No, it was the fact that portions of the sidewalk were really dark, and I faced the risk of stepping on the leavings of all the stray dogs that were to be found in the area. If I stepped in dog excrement, I would have to throw away my shoes, and there was enough broken glass on the ground that the rest of my trip would be unpleasant indeed.
Along that route, south of Avenida Americo Vespucio, I finally spotted some restaurants. I chose the busier one, and ordered something called a churrasco. It was basically a sandwich on a bun with some type of meat and cheese. That place did not serve fries, so I ordered some from another two doors down. For 700 pesos I was given a huge bag, and that made eating on the go difficult, so I sat on a park bench and watched a couple of youths skateboard while I ate.
Incidentally, there were items on the menu called "ASS" and "ASS CHICO". I stayed away from those.
As I was leaving Ciudad Empresarial I spotted a card on the ground for a club called Diosas that supposedly had a "new concept". The card listed the address, and I was curious, but not curious enough to go back to the Starbucks and get online. I figured I might find a wi-fi signal later, as dinner was my priority. After dinner I completely forgot about the club until I passed an apartment/condo building called Bella Vista, which happened to be name of the barrio where the club was located. Farther down I passed the street, Santa Filomena, but I found the club closed. It was close to 9:00 PM, and it did not even appear that they were getting ready to open. There were other bars in the area, also closed. Farther down, on a lively-looking street called Pio Nono, I saw that many bars and clubs had not yet opened. What is with these Chileans and their late, late night life???
Wow, for over a decade, maybe closer to two...
"Nobody puts baby in a corner."
September 13, 2009
8:40, chilly chilly, and a bit hazy, but the temperature rose quickly, and the haze lifted. Took the metrored to Tobalaba and walked from there, first to Alonso de Cordova and then to the closing Vitacura store, which, disappointingly enough, was closed on Sunday. That made four stores I had passed that I needed to return to.
Back to Parque Arauco for a better photo, then across the park to Nueva Las Condes. From there I considered taking a taxi to Alto Las Condes, but I was one street south of the primary arterial (Kennedy), and no taxis passed by. By the time I cut over to Kennedy it seemed I was so close that I just walked the rest of the way.
The hideous troll.
Hungry though I was, I eschewed the mall food, as I am wont to do, and I walked outside and spotted what appeared to be some restaurants down a side street. I passed up the empanada shop and went for a burrito from a place called Tortilla Factory. I usually prefer my burritos with rice, but I decided to try what they called the "traditional", beans, chili con carne, and cheese. First problem was that I could not eat it by hand and thus had to go outside and sit on a bench. Second problem was that I just didn't like the burrito. Rather dissatisfying, and I ended up doing something very rare for me. Even though I had eaten enough to last for hours, I went ahead and bought a ham and cheese charrada from the empanada place, El Sauce. Cost wasn't an issue, because the charrada cost just 600 pesos, a fraction of the 2500 I'd paid for the crappy burrito.
Charrada in one hand, Coke in the other, I steeled myself for the long walk to the next store when I spotted a bus station. Suddenly the people waiting began to move, and I glanced back at the approaching bus. I saw Avenida Las Condes listed on the electronic sign, and I immediately rushed over to the bus and hopped on. I wondered if food and drink were permitted even as I set my bag down, kneeled, and fumbled for my bip card. The bus driver did not protest, and thus I saved myself quite a bit of time and managed to get off a couple of minutes from the store.
Next store, Portal La Dehesa, I finally ran across a security guard who both spotted me taking a photo and told me I could not. Of course I had anticipated this, and by that time I had already taken three photos from different angles and copied them to my laptop. I had managed this by observing the guard and waiting until either walked away from the front of the store, or turned to speak to somebody else.
At the next store, Shopping La Dehesa, the staff was emphatic that I should not try to walk to San Carlos de Apoquindo, but instead to take the #109. Good call. Not only was the distance great, but part of it was uphill.
17 stores visited, 11 to go in the city, plus one in the airport--it appeared certain I would finish by Tuesday and have time to visit Vinya del Mar on Wednesday. Decided to check out either or both of the two strip clubs I had found on google. The first one, Club Platinum, surprisingly listed on Vitacura, a street that has some upscale portions, was not actually there--the building looked long since abandoned. And the second, Passapoga, was closed, around 9:00 PM, even though the sign said it was open Monday through Sunday. There was no sign indicating when they would open, and no signs of life, so I just walked on towards the hostel.
I suppose I could have gone to bed just on the yogurt, banana and chocolate, but I guess all that walking gave me a craving for soup. Popped into a restaurant near the hostel after spotting a small portion of chicken and egg soup for just 550 pesos. Ordered some rice to go along with it, and the meal certainly filled me up, but I did not find any actual chicken in the soup. Maybe it was just for flavoring? Regardless, I did not feel like complaining nor inquiring. It had been a pretty good day, and I was feeling mellow. Still, I could not help but be disappointed after the waiter brought me some other brand of soda after having said that they did indeed have Fanta Limon. The horror.
Wow, I do not understand what is going on with this time zone thing!!! At the airport in Panama I set my laptop to the Quito/Bogota/Lima time zone, GMT-5, the same as Eastern Time, and I ended up being behind by an hour. So I reset the time zone to Santiago, GMT-4 according to Windows Vista, and now my time is correct. However, even though Eastern Time is GMT-5, which means I should be an hour ahead, when I called my mother she was just an hour behind (Central Time) instead of the two hours I expect. So what's going on???
Keira the Australian was still around, and that meant... you guess it, another drinking game that I wasn't participating in.
September 12, 2009
The sky was light when I woke up just before 5:00 AM--this troubled me because that might have meant Santiago was situated at a longitude where the sun would set really earlier. I felt pressure to get up and get going, but I had no idea when the nearest Starbucks would open. Also, since I had just been on the West Coast, my body thought it was much earlier. Regardless, 5:00 AM was much too earlier, for a Saturday at least.
after 7:00 AM one of my dormmates go up to take a shower, and I decided I better do the same, in case the hot water ran out. Sure enough, about 15 minutes later when I was asking the attendant for directions to the Starbucks, a young lady complained that the water was freezing.
Just outside the hostel I spotted a market and went in to find a small bottle of water, but they had none. I had foolishly thrown away the small bottle I had been carrying around in Europe, and I had forgotten to replace it for my trip to Chile.
I did find some halfway-decent yogurt, better than I would have expected from a corner market.
I had the location of that first store plotted in a Google maps, but until I got a better feel for Santiago I was going to be hesitant and wary of pulling out my laptop where others could see. I had to assume every passerby was a potential thief, and every policeman someone who might become suspicious and decide to question me. Fortunately, right at the corner, outside the metrored station, was a large map of the area. I saw a similar map at the next station. Very useful, and something I had not even seen in some of the major cities in Europe.
Lots of stray dogs. I mean, lots!!! Hadn't seen this many since Athens. That meant I'd have to be careful, as I walked around looking for addresses and observing my surroundings, that I did not step in it.
A lady selling fresh-squeezed orance juice out of a contraption built atop/in a grocery cart. Down at the next intersection, around the corner, several more vendors selling fresh-squeezed orange juice.
Needless to say, lots of police (carabineros de Chile).
First store in Chile, Agustinas Bandera, and I lucked out. The supervisor, a five-year veteran, was a absolutely lovely young woman named Paloma, and she was exceedingly helpful. Besides the sample, she gave me a map, just like the one I had found at the airport, but with 18 Starbucks locations marked on it. She then brought out a list, and marked off which ones were on the map.
In Chile for less than 24 hours hours, and already I had seen so many beautiful young women. Nice, but that made it all the more to face the depressing reality that I am invisible to attractive women, whether in Europe or America or South America. Oh, sure, my Starbucks project my get me some smiles and conversation from lovely young baristas, but as soon as I walk the the door I will cease to exist. Such is the burden of being a hideous troll.
I was surprised to find that the Chilean stores do not have machines for squeezing orange juice, as in Mexico, Spain, and several other countries. They did have juice inside Starbucks cups, which would seem to indicate a greater degree of freshness than for bottled juice, but it really wasn't very tasty. The blueberry muffins were decent, though.
Holy shit--that was really weird. I finished writing some paragraphs and then walked up to Paloma to ask about the policemen, and I spoke to her in English! That was a serious, and rare, mental lapse, because I always speak in Spanish when in Spanish-speaking countries.
I had not had coffee since 7:00 PM Thursday evening, and I'm sure that sample from that first store helped me feel less jumpy, but I think it was more the fact that I had finally arrived in Chile, negotiated various logistical hurdles, and located my first Starbucks that gave me a sense of relief. The dread I had been feeling about the trip was effectively gone.
Walked along a park towards the next store (that was open), and I passed a group of schoolkids, of various ages, dressed up like wizards and witches, Harry Potter style, and playing around with wands pretending to hex each other.
Hmm... why does this sign look familiar? And why do I keep seeing them near Starbucks Coffee?
Between the Concepcion store and the Valdivia store was a theater, I think, and a line of schoolchildren was waiting to get in. Most of them were wearing black. Later I seemed to notice that black seemed to be fairly common among people of all ages. I wondered if it was stylistic preference, or practical, because black is a warmer color in the winter. Of course, by noon it was anything but chilly, nothing like the night before.
On an unrelated note, I wonder if there are any Vietnamese restaurants in America named "Pho King".
Are the Chileans particularly enamoured of the prefix "super"? The supervisor at Bandera had wished my trip to be "superbueno", and at the Valdivia store I overheard a customer hope some that something turn out "superfacil". One thing was for certain, the Chileans love to use "vale". Not as much as the Spanish, but the term seems common nonetheless.
Make yourself at home, why don't you?
Of course I was wary of my backpack, as I have been at any store in any city anywhere in the world, but was the situation in the area of Providencia even more sketchy than I could have imagined. A besuited man at that store, not the manager, perhaps the DM or someone else, made a point of affixing the strap of my backpack to the chair where I had set it using a strap that was affixed to that, and the other chairs. This was something I had never seen at any other store, even in the high-tourist, high-crime areas of London, Paris, Berlin, Mexico City.
Four stores down, time for lunch. Peeked around a corner and spotted a small place, La Toto, and the positive review posted to the door sold me. Not a bad meal for the price, steak and rice, with soup (radioactively hot), bread, soda, and a desert (torta de merengue, I think). Much cheaper than what I had paid the night before, perhaps because that restaurant was adjacent to a hotel.
Quite a few unsecured wi-fi signals in Santiago.
A third use of the super prefix--"supercerca".
Holy cow, I was an hour off all day long!!! When I changing the time on my laptop I did not first see Santiago listed in the list of time zones, I so I picked Lima/Quito/Bogota. Turns out Santiago is an hour ahead still. Good thing I realized before I ended up traveling to a store and arriving after it had closed.
Oh, free wi-fi at the Chilean Starbucks, with the difference that there is no login, just a network key. Oops, spoke too soon. Just as I typed this, I ran into a network that required "logging in" by simply pressing a "Continue" button.
AARRGHH!!! Because my Nikon Coolpix pops out the lens when I turn it on, I keep it turned off, and I keep forgetting, since I haven't used it in so long, that it does not save the flash settings. Thus, when I arrived at Parque Arauco and shot a quick frame, the flash went off. I didn't want to attract attention, so I kept walking, inside to get my sample. Next thing I know, a serious-looking man in what might have been a security uniform is standing next to me as I am chatting with the barista. No idea if he was there because he spotted me or not, or if he was keeping an eye on me, or if he was even security, but I had to be wary anyway.
Actually, another reason the flash went off was that the store is outside, not inside an indoor mall as I had hoped (and as I had asked a barista at the Colon store). If I had known it was outside, I would not have bothered to go so late at night.
Interestingly enough, when I went into the indoor part of the mall, to see if there was an angle, I noticed that the doors did not have any signs prohibiting photography.
I experienced my first Chilean tragedy there at Parque Arauco. It was already later, around 10:00 PM, and I wasn't sure what kind of restaurants I'd find back near the hostel, so I decided to go for a crepe from this trendy place called, boringly enough, Crepes & Waffles. Good thing I waited for the check before I left to go find juice, because the price was over 4,000, exhorbitant for a crepe. The reason, besides the trendy nature of the shopping center, was that the crepes included ice cream. I changed my order to a waffle and went back to the Starbucks for orange juice. They were out, so I went upstairs to a stand called Boost and waited a good five minutes at least before finding out that their machine was broken. AARRGHH!!! Back downstairs to a restaurant, but no juices. Back to Crepes & Waffles, which I already knew did not have orange juice, to see what other types they had. The cashier listed off several, but then a manager-type cut in and said they did not have them to go! AARRGHH!!! No choice but to take my waffle and eat it dry. Before I left I took the container out of the offensive plastic bag and discovered that there was no fork. I asked for one, and after several more waffle-cooling minutes a waiter came back with a metal knife and fork, offering to let me have them. I said that I did not want to waste them, and that I would try with a spoon, and I left. Went back to the Starbucks and waited well over five minutes in line for a plastic fork, only to find that the larger, stronger forks had run out, given to a lady ahead of me for her pastries. All she had left was a flimsy fork that made eating the waffle fairly tough. AARRGHH!!!
After all that, I was lucky to make it back to the Escuela Militar metrored station to get back to the hostel.
After my initial positive impression of the hostel, annoyances started to creep up. First, the rooms had no keys, and I found the door to my room wide open. That's not secure. The noise from the bar I had already experienced the night before, but it was still annoying. Finally, in the wee hours, a couple were arguing, very loudly, somewhere on the bottom floor.
September 11, 2009
As soon as I arrived at the Tocumen airport in Panama, I remembered ojaldres, and I went off in search of a restaurant. Unfortunately the terminal or concourse where I was had limited options, and I did not find them.
While waiting at the gate, I was once again annoyed by a child, this time one tossing around a purple balloon. Purple might be my favorite color, but I still hate children.
The flight was far from full, and I had three seats to myself, making it much easier to sleep. Of course I'd already slept a lot, on the flight to Panama, but because I had forgotten to buy a paperback to bring with, I really had nothing I could do but sleep.
Having to go to Chile on such short notice was fraught with various irritations, and the culmination of these was my discovery, upon arrival at the airport, that because I was carrying a US passport I had to pay a whopping $131 tax to enter the country. WTF???
Furthermore, Chile seemed to have a bug up its ass about foreign plants and animals, and signs everywhere warned of fines if these were no declared. I was told I had to eat the apple that I had in the backpack.
Next, for some reason Chile uses a different plug. Not American, not European. Why did all these countries not agree on a goddamn standard!!!
Next, the lady at the duty-free shop who offered to help me find a plug adaptor had no idea what she was talking about. The adapter she pointed me to was for Europe.
Next, upon exiting the customs area I was immediately confronted by a goodly number of taxi drivers all offering rides. One, with a vaguely effeminate air about him, was unusually persistent. When I said I did not need a taxi he offered to help in whatever way he could. I said I was looking for an ATM, and he tried to walk me all the way down there before I waved him off and said I could find it. When I returned, there he was again offered to help me. I said that I couldn't think with all his questions.
The ATM itself, Santander, was a little different. My transaction failed at first, but the machine was kind enough to tell me I needed to press the foreign transaction option. From that point I figured it out, although I still was unsure what currency I was requesting, because Chile also uses the $ sign. In the end I retrieved 200,000 Chilean pesos, and act that seemed really weird and almost disconcerting to me, to be carrying around 200 grand of any currency.
Finally, money in hand, I found another area with shops and bought a plug adapter. I then walked outside and quickly found the Centropuerto bus as detailed in the instructional e-mail sent by hostelworld. The bus did not actually go to Pajarito, as the instructions stated, but to the next station over, Las Rejas, but I still figured out what I needed to do.
Once I sat on the bus and waited for it to leave, the feelings of dread and annoyance I'd been feeling started to give way to the spirit of adventure.
Interesting. The bus driver kept turning the interior lights off, then turning them on at stops. I had never seen this before, and I had to wonder why. I couldn't imagine he was trying to conserve power--how much fuel could a bus really save that way? Or was it a security measure?
Young men not even trying to hide the fact that they were urinating in public--in fact, they seemed to be trying to attact attention, doing it as they walked and shaking their hips back and forth.
At Las Rejas I waited in a pretty long line to buy a ticket. I inquired about a multi-day unlimited use pass, but I was told no such thing existed in Santiago (later the hostel attendant confirmed this). I guessed and bought and card (1300) and ten trips (400 apiece).
Interesting. The Spanish title (at least in Chile) for Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs is Lluvia de Hamburguesas--perhaps because the Latin people do not relate to meatballs? Later, upon exiting the subway station I saw a sign for The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3 that read "Rescate del Tren 1-2-3". Interesting, because in Spain the name had been "Ataque al Tren 1-2-3". Same language, but completely opposite meanings.
As much as I might have complained about having to go to Chile, at least Santiago has a subway system. Same can't be said for too many American cities. Seems wrong, doesn't it, that some third-world country like Chile can have a subway but a city like Houston does not?
Very friendly attendant at the hostel, and he took my American currency, which was convenient. Then he pointed out that I had gotten lucky and been moved from a 10-room bed to a 3-room bed, until Tuesday. Well, actually, that wasn't so lucky, because I would rather have had an opportunity to meet more young women. The two people in my room were already a couple, so nothing was going to come of that.
Earlier, at the airport, the pesky taxi driver had said something about protests in the city. I thought he might be trying to scare me, but I learned from the hostel attendant that September 11 happens to be what he called a "special" day in Chile, and every year there are protests against the "system". According to the attendant, businesses shut down early on that day, and so did the subway (metrored).
Given this, I saw no point in going far in search of foodstuffs, and I just walked two doors down to a restaurant called La Terraza. Ordered a plate of chicken soup and a side of rice, and I was surprised by just how large it ended up being. I had been told that Chile was expensive, and maybe it is, but not the food, at least not at this place. One interesting thing about the soup, it contained an orangish vegetable that I could not recognize. I asked the waiter, and he said it was "zapallo". I'd never heard the word, and in response to my puzzlement another customer said it was the same as "calabaza", a word I had encountered. The waiter said it was similar to yucca, I think, but to me it tasted more like yam. Wiktionary calls it a few things, including pumpkin--I don't think it was pumpkin. Pumpkin in soup???
Back at the hostel, I went downstairs, where free beer was served every night. A group was participating in a drinking game led by the outgoing and assertive Keira the Australian. I figured, what the heck, I'll have a free beer, but I stood back and did not participate in the game. I've never been a fan of drinking games. To me, the point of a game is to win. Clearly, many others do not feel this way, but I cannot separate myself from my goal-oriented mentality. While the fooled around, I tried to figure out the "rules" of the game, which involved a circle of cards, each of which required some activity, which might or might not have been detailed in a small notebook that Keira had in front of her. The game became pretty amusing when one of the cards triggered a round of calling out and describing sexual positions. I could not help but think that my unwillingness to participate in the game is one of the reasons that I fail to hook up with any of the lovely young hostelers that I meet all over the world. They say 90% of life is just showing up, and I have to many goals I want to accomplish to "show up", by which is meant staying up 'til all hours of the night bullshitting or drinking, which is what is required in order to attract enough of a woman's attention in order to get her into bed. No doubt this is what is going through the minds of many of the young men in these late-night groups, and I'm sure many of them succeed. But me, the guy who needs to get up early to take advantage of the best lighting for photographs, the guy who actually wants to accomplish something that is of some value, is also the guy who is going to be least noticed by the women.
I went into the kitchen to write, just so I could be around people, and there was a group of Argentinians. Though I was already familiar with their use of the "ch" sound for the double-L, I could hear that their (mis)pronounciation was even more extensive. Even the Y in "yo" was pronounced like a "ch". Kind of hard on the ears, actually. Still, I can't deny that those Argentinian girls were lovely, for sure. If I managed to hook up with one of them (never gonna happen), I think I could bear the accent.
Though I was wofully unprepared for my trip, I had at least looked up the weather, as my father reminded me that Chile is just existing winter. I saw that the temperatures were predicted to rise just when I arrived, so I did not bring a coat, cap, or gloves. When I arrived at the airport and went outside, the temperature seemed perfectly fine--I could have even removed my undershirt. However, during the 2-3 hours it took me to reach the hostel, get dinner, and do some online stuff and blogging, the temperature dropped dramatically. By the time I went to bed around 10:30, I was freezing. I immediately realized that I should have packed a second undershirt, for sleeping, and also some white socks, for sleeping. Instead I had to wear my black socks during the night, and this prevented me from airing them out.
As I lay in bed, I noticed that my feeling of dread had pretty much passed. Instead I was experiencing the pleasant feeling of the newness of Santiago. As loathe as I had been to travel at that particular time, now that I was in country it would have been silly to have a sour attitude rather than enjoying my trip.
September 10, 2009
Reached Calexico later than I expected, but I thought it a good idea to take some time and ask for advice at the Starbucks there. Turns out I was crazy to have thought I could walk to all the stores. And after finding out how far they were, and how much it might cost to take taxis, and being told by the baristas that driving across was safe, I decided to take the plunge and try it. Hardly any border at all crossing into Mexicali, just a young man looking at two lanes of cars, not asking for ID. Traffic in the city was not chaotic as I expected. I got lost, of course, but eventually I found my way onto the right road.
As I expected, Galerias del Valle had plenty of guards. I saw one outside right away, and then another, wearing a different uniform, inside the mall itself. I gave my spiel to the baristas and drank my coffee, and then I sat down to wait for the guard to move away. Didn't look like he was going anywhere, though, so I had no choice but to go out into the mall and take the photo right in front of him. Rather than trying to be surreptitious, I hoped being obvious would work in my favor. I'm certain that what did work in my favor was that I was using my Coolpix, not my D80. Because of the dropped D80's problem shooting in bright light, I had been using the Coolpix more and more, and it occurred to me that using it inside malls might attract less attention than using the bulkier DSLR
Next store, Plaza Centenario, I had a nice chat with the supervisor, and while doing so an older, worn-looking, seemingly dazed, man came in wearing one sneaker and one sandal. The staff did not seem to mind; or, if they did, they did not react.
Ach!!! Chatted too long and went over my 30 free minutes by 6, and I had to pay for parking. Of course I had no Mexican currency, but thankfully the supervisor at the Starbucks exchanged 5 pesos for 40 cents for me. I just gave her 50.
No difficulties at the final store, and despite my fears of losing an hour to having my car searched, I had no trouble at all returning to the US, and even the 30-minute delay did not seem outrageous. I must point out, however, that after clearing the customs booth, I had to zig-zag around about a dozen concrete barriers before getting onto clear road.
Duuuude. Learned something very important. Take a pear, put it in a plastic bag, let it sit in the car for five days, and add the oppressive desert heat of Arizona, California, and Mexico, and the resulting liquid slush will smell really bad!!!
Had another job interview, and this one went about 90 minutes. With the detour into Mexicali, all of a sudden the supposed day I had to burn before my flight was dwindling to just a few hours, if even that much. It was going to be past 5:00 PM when I reached Santee for a reshoot, close to 6:00 when I reached the new (relocated) SD store, and if I had no delays to LAX I'd arrive around 8:00. I had to assume 9:00, and that really just left 90 minutes to spare, 2 hours tops.
No delays at the mall though, and not a single slowdown on the trip north towards OC (that was surprising) and then LAX. A good omen, perhaps?
Breezed through check-in and security and had over and hour before to boarding, so I tried for some shut-eye. A while later my sleep was interrupted by the inane utterances of some child, barely older than a toddler. I mouthed something obscene and gave her mother a nasty look, trying to convey the notion that, in a very large concourse full of places to sit, she had to park her child down next to the guy trying to sleep.
September 9, 2009
The upshot of having gone to sleep at 8:30 was that I felt well enough to get up around 6:00 AM. Good for getting my body adjusted to Chile time.
Would have been nice to get to Phoenix for reshoots before the sun got too high in the sky, but looking for suitable jobs and sending out resumes was a priority. I saw further delays when I had to run through the self-checkout four times to get my groceries (don't ask), and then have my bagel sandwich from Malones made twice because the cook did not give a plain bagel the first time. But you know what? I didn't care. See, for the first time in five trips through Arizona, I wasn't in a great hurry, and it felt good. Every road trip I've taken that had a rigid timeline has been at least moderately stressful. With no rigit timeline, and plenty of time to make my flight, I was enjoying this trip more than many recent ones. Excluding the severe headache, of course.
Oops--I keep forgetting Mexicali. Glancing at my route to San Diego I noticed Mexicali on the map and remembered the two stores there. Wait, make that three stores now. With almost a day to kill before my flight, I definitely had to try and get them.
That extra time also allowed me the luxury of looking around for some good food. Rather than getting right on the interstate, I headed up to Baseline and then west. I was looking for flautas, mostly, with the faint hope of finding something more Latin American, but what I ended up spotting was a sign that read "soul food", for Fat Daddy's. My mouht instantly began watering for oxtails, but, alas, there were none to be found on the menu. Bah! I had something called rib tips instead, with beans and rice. As soon as I got my order I wish I had asked them to go easy on the meat and heavier on the beans and rice. Would have benefitted me more, because the rib tips weren't all that good, really.
Was hoping to reach Calexico by nightfall, but I had to stick around town and wait for an interview. Took about an hour, and I didn't even want to go work in Nebraska, but until I got an offer I had to go through the motions. Anyway, I didn't even make it to Yuma, and decided to call it a night around 8:30 at a rest area still in Arizona.
September 8, 2009
Job interview at 8:00 AM, and I don't think it went very well. Well, if I don't get the job, that means I can finish my US/Canada tour instead of rushing to a job after returning from Chile.
More Copa annoyance--they called first to get a phone number for my father so they could verify the credit card purchase. Then they called again to get my passport number and ask, repeatedly, what name was on the passport. Grrr...
Next stop, Albuquerque, and loyal readers know what that means... the Frontier Restaurant. Once again, the pancakes were some of the best I've tasted.
Oh, goddamn it!!! What is it with me and overseas travel? It seems that I very often get sick right when I'm on the verge of getting on a plane, and this time was no exception. A headache grew in intensity during the entire 300+ mile drive from Albuquerque to Flagstaff, where I had to stop for the night. It wasn't even 8:00, and I could have made it down to Phoenix, but I had plenty of time to reach LAX for my flight, so why push myself to drive the way I was feeling.
As much as I had grumbled about being stuck in the middle of nowhere during my last assignment, in remote Powers Lake, WI, there was one lasting benefit--my discovery of egg drop soup and fried rice as a perfectly adequate meal. Given the way I felt, I did not want anything substantial nor heavy, and fried rice and soup fits that bill.
I went to the toilet while I waited, and every time I strained I felt pain shooting through my skull. By the time I got out to car with my food, I felt so bad that I wasn't sure I could even eat. I put the food away, then felt a little better and ate a few bites of rice and soup. Pretty crappy, that food from Mandarin Gardens. Avoid.
Moved my car next to a van and hoped no cops would bother me, because I felt too bad to go off hunting for parking. Around 11:00 I felt well enough to drive off the parking lot, and I quickly found a spot next to a field in a neighborhood.
September 7, 2009
Finished a miserable tournament and headed west, uncertain whether my father would allow me to use his credit card to buy my ticket to Chile. If he did not, the $1000 expense would significantly cut into my remaining funds. Fortunately, my father happened to call while I was still in D/FW, and I was able to get my emergency soul-preservation loan.
Meanwhile, my original plan, to polish off the remaining US/Canada stores, so I could sleep, continued, with my first stop being Lubbock. No problems visiting the two new stores there, but I can't say my visit was completely smooth. Picked up a sub and chili from Firehouse, and I immediately regretted my decision. And I do mean immediately, because just down the street was a Freebirds (World Burrito). Given my dwindling budget, I could not justify tossing the sub. The sandwich itself wasn't that bad, but the chili was awful.
Later, while booking my flight to Santiago, the computer system would not take my information. I had to book my phone, and, as I expected, I had to deal with the agent's questions about my name. Annoying.
The collapse of the housing bubble might have sucked for many, but it has been good for us car-sleepers. No, I don't mean that I've taken to invading empty houses like the homeless in some cities. Rather, I mean that many developments around the country have stopped midway leaving empty lots, just fields of grass. This allows me to park close enough to the nearest house so that my car appears to belong to a guest, but far enough that the homeowner does not notice.
September 5, 2009
No luck in the morning, getting through to any Starbucks in Chile. None of the numbers worked, and I had to give up after about 15 minutes. But I tried again later than evening and pulled up a different list of numbers, and this time one worked. I got the number for Vitacura and learned it would close on the 17th. Good news, that I would be able to visit, but a bit a burden, because I had to start figuring out when I could go, and how I could pay for it.
September 4, 2009
AARRGHH!!! Without a job, I'm fast running out of money, and just when I was going to pour some of what I had left into an "anxiety tour" of the remaining U.S. and Canadian stores, I find this out.
STARBUCKS CLOSING ITS FIRST STORE IN CHILE
I immediately looked up fares, and it looks to be about a grand just for the airfare. But before I can book, I need to make sure the store is not closing this weekend. Of course, in typical Starbucks fashion, no date is given. Even worse, no phone numbers are given for stores on the website. I had to google quite a bit to find phone numbers, but since Santiago appears to be an hour ahead, it was too late too call. I was thus left to suffer a sleepless night.
Just as I expected, I lost much sleep that night because I was thinking about Chile, and I even dreamed about Chile. I dreamed about a crappy hostel where sketchy looking characters were trying to borrow my key and possibly steal my stuff. I dreamed about a store in a shopping center and clearly saw the "no video", "no photography" signs in my sleep. I worried about South American disregard for law and order and men with guns who clubbed and shot first without worrying about the finer legal aspects. To say that I looked at my possible to trip to Chile with dread rather than excitement was an understatement. If I had had a say in the matter, Starbucks would only have entered countries that had a long history of stable democracy and rule of law. That means no China, no Russia, no Middle East, and no Latin America. That's not to say that the U.S. government is not oppressive--of course it is. But, because I have access to money for a lawyer, I do not fear going to prison, although being shot is always a possibility when you are dealing with men with guns.