World Tour 2009


August 30, 2009

Well, the fear begins anew. Over four months now, nearly five really, since the second list of store closures was published and I departed on a mad rush to visit the two critical stores. During that trip I called the other unvisited stores to make sure they would not be closing, I felt satisfied with the answers. But now, nearly five months later, and with some new store openings in that time, I begin to worry again that some of those stores will be designated for closure. You have to understand some of the stores put on the death list last July had only been open for 3-4 months. That might have been an exceptional occurrence, or it might be that Starucks is really going to continue being aggressive about closing underperforming stores, even though it seems to make no sense not to give a store a year to prove itself.

The upshot--until I clear out the remaining stores, I will have this air of worry hanging over me.

August 22, 2009

I've previously said in interviews that even if no more Starbucks ever open, I cannot imagine that I would want to stop traveling. But I've left out that even without any new stores my starbucking would continue to a limited extent simply because I enjoy taking the photographs. Spent the morning improving my photographs of nearly a dozen Plano-area stores, and except for the hassles of my damaged camera, it was a very enjoyable experience. There are so few stores for which I have taken the "perfect" photograph that I could spend a year doing nothing but traveling from store to store, taking photos.

Wow. That is just ridiculously awful customer service. 545 Fifth Avenue in New York City, just two blocks away--TWO BLOCKS--from the Starbucks at 575 that might or might not have relocated already, and the barista doesn't know. How the fuck can a barista not know what is happening with a store TWO BLOCKS AWAY!!! If Starbucks franchised its stores, I could understand, but these are all company-owned stores were are talking about. THE BARISTAS SHOULD KNOW WHAT'S GOING ON!!!

August 21, 2009

Grrr... I don't know what it is with Miami-area baristas. I think I've had more difficulties calling stores in greater Miami than in any other part of the country except maybe New York City. Is it a cultural thing? I know most of them are Latinas, but there are Latinas all over the country, including a ton in California, and I don't think I have had that much trouble calling Cali stores.

Grrr... why can't Starbucks stop doing things that annoy people??? All that business acumen that made Starbucks a success to begin with, and it doesn't occur to somebody there that lowering prices at some stores in a city but not others, so that the coffee at twos store just a couple of miles from each other differs by 10 cents, is going to annoy people? AARRGHH!!! I paid 10 cents fewer for my short coffee at Richmond & Chimney Rock on Thursday, but when I stopped at Hillcroft & US-59 on Friday, I paid the old price. The barista was unsympathetic, offering up the lame excuse that the process couldn't get rolled out to the registers all at once. That's ridiculous! It's 2009--it is entirely possible to push software upgrades to every single register overnight!!!

More phone irritation, at Spokane and San Diego stores this time. I'm guessing the Starbucks training manual left out the part about not giving customers a hard time over the phone.

Up in D/FW, I decided to stop at my old hangout store in Plano. I did not expect anyone I knew to be there, same as last time I dropped by, but I was feeling nostalgic. Yeah, it brought back memories and made me a little wistful. So many years, 14, since that store opened, just a couple of months after I moved to Plano. So many memories.

On a downside, I was mystified as I looked at my Plano photos and found nearly all of them to be really crappy. I spent so much time in D/FW, how was it that I hadn't managed to get decent photos of all these stores???

August 16, 2009

Slept 12 hours--it was beautiful, except that the withdrawal started to set in during the night. Needless to say, I had to go out for coffee shortly after breakfast.

August 15, 2009

4:04, saw a line forming at the security gate, which did not yet appear to be open, and I decided I'd better go check in. In my half-asleep--make that 3/4-asleep--state, I totally forgot about the kiosk. Several flights across Europe, I always had to check in at the counter, plus none of the airports were that busy. Not so at Logan.

Wow, there was even a line at the fake Starbucks, waiting for it to open at 5:00 AM. I had to partake, just to avoid withdrawal. As I stood in line, however, I had a thought--I'd just spent 11 1/2 weeks and visited 649 Starbucks, so if I was going to have to settle for a fake airport location, why not just get buck wild, as my cousin Gustavo once said, and go for the Dunkin' Donuts!!! Shh... don't tell anybody.

My flight to Houston was in three parts, and while waiting at Cincinnati I spotted a man eating some Chick-fil-a. Ooh, Chick-fil-a--it might very well be possible that the restaurant had not entered my mind a single time during my 11 1/2 weeks out of country, and yet as soon as I saw the bag I got the craving.

As soon as I deplaned in New Orleans I rushed into the terminal to look for beignets, even before it occurred to me to check the monitor to make sure my flight was departing from the same concourse. It was, but there were no beignets to be found there. A young man said there was a restaurant outside, so I took a look at the security line, determined I had time to get back in, and rushed off to get some yummy yummy beignets. But the restaurant, West Beignet, was closed!!! NOOOO!!! I had been dreaming of beignets during the whole flight!!!

Made it through security just five minutes before the scheduled flight time, but it was not yet boarding, so I took the opportunity to indulge in another treat I missed, biscuits! Biscuits, scrambled eggs, and bacon--the best breakfast in the whole world!!!

Arrived back at the house right around noon, making my travel time from the point I headed to the airport in Lisbon about 32 hours. I was, of course, exhausted, but I had a lot of movies on the brain and went out to see District 9--it was excellent.

August 14, 2009

8:08, about as late as I could sleep if I hoped to get to Almada Forum and then to the airport in time. Took a few minutes though, to call the management office at La Gavia. I had to assume that security had reported to the office, and I wanted to register my complaint while the incident was still fresh. Right away, even before I had said what I was calling about, I suspected I was not going to receive receptive feedback, because the lady who answered seemed impatient. I said I was calling about an incident with security, she asked for more details, and after I recounted that it was on Wednesday between 6:30 and 7:00 PM and involved a female guard and a male guard name David, she recognized it as the camera incident. I expected her to prompt me for my side of the story, but she did not, and I sensed a lack of interest in her voice, so I had to quickly get in two salient points, that the female guard had shouted and sworn at me, and that the male guard had attempted to follow me off the property until the female called him back. The lady apologized on behalf of the center, but from the tone in her voice I think she was being dismissive.

AARRGHH!!! I did not realize until I was heading out the door that this hostel had eggs available for frying!!! It is rare, rare, rare to get an actual egg breakfast at a hostel, and I missed it!!!

Jersey girl's directions involved taking a ferry, which was kind of nice because it added to my list of transportation methods: airplane, car, taxi, bus, train, tram, subway, foot, and now ferry.

Views from the ferry to Cacilhas.

Rushed from the ferry terminal to find the buses and quickly located #103. Jersey girl had written the number down for me, and sure enough the sign on the bus read "Almada Forum", but when I walked up to the open door and asked the bus driver, "Almada Forum?", he said no, pointed over to another bay, and said something I understood to be #104. I went over to that bay and asked a young woman--she spoke English--and she confirmed that I wanted #104. So I waited, and waited, and looked at the time, and waited. Finally #104 showed up, over to the side of the road, and I went to the door and asked the driver "Almada Forum?" The jist of what he said, despite the language issue, was clear--"yes, but you have to wait over there" (at the bay). So I waited, and waited, and looked at the time, and waited.

Interesting--second time is as many days that I've herd the Amy MacDonald song "This Is the Life" on the radio, back in Madrid and now in Lisbon. I discovered the song a long, long time ago, like maybe even late '08, and I wondered why it was getting airplay in Spain and Portugal now.

Well past 10:00 AM when I reached the shopping center, and getting close to 10:30 when I located the Starbucks. By the time I took the photos it was 10:29. I rushed all the way across the mall to the exit, without running, to avoid attracting attention, and quickly spotted the taxis. Passed them up though and went to investigate the bus schedules, just in case one might be arriving soon to take me to a metro station. After a few minutes it did not appear this was going to be quick, and I went back to the taxi stand and asked the first driver how much to the airport. 20 to 25 euros, he said. Good enough for me!

In fact, when I factored the 1.90 I'd pay to get to the ferry, then 2.31 on the ferry, then at least 1.40, but probably more for the faster Aerobus to the airport, the extra price for the taxi wasn't that much, and a very rational expense given the potential cost of missing my flight. And in fact the taxi ended up costing just 17.15.

Incidentally, the ristretto, which I ordered for speed, is much cheaper, 1.20 in Portugal, versus 1.60 in Spain (unless they hit the wrong button the register).

Of course I had made a miscalculation in thinking that checkin and security would take longer because I was going to Boston, because I wasn't actually going to Boston first--I was going to Ponta Delgada, a domestic flight. I arrived and checked into with 30 minutes to spare--could have saved some on the taxi.

Wow, I had never even bothered to look at a map to see where Ponta Delgada is. Turns out its on an island, in the Azores. Looks really close to St. John's, Newfoundland, where I actually need to go at some point. Too bad it isn't cheap to go there and then work my way south.

Peace, love, and understanding may be hard, but customer service shouldn't be. The airport in Ponta Delgada had very limited food options, really just one place to get an actual meal. I inquired about getting an egg, cheese, and ham sandwich, and though the manager said the pre-made sandwiches had just been made fresh, right there, he said he could not make me a sandwich with egg. He couldn't even put an egg on the existing ham & cheese sandwich. He said they were standard, like McDonald's--bad comparison on his part, as I hate McDonald's. Anyway, this guy didn't have a great understanding of customer service, which would have dictated that if he had the eggs and the frying pan, he should make me whatever I asked for.

Flight to Boston not bad, didn't really seem that long. Spending the night in the airport was probably going to be worse. First things first, however--getting online, which required joining Boingo, something I'd been thinking about anyway. Their page said I could use Boingo at Starbucks, and if so, the $9.95 a month beats AT&T's $19.99. Next, foodifications, as I'd not had a proper meal all day.

Food options were limited and unappealing in Terminal E, so I took the shuttle over to A, but all I found open was a Dunking Donuts. I wasn't really thrilled about airport food anyway--I wanted a real meal. I took a look at my map, and it appeared that there were quite a few restaurants in East Boston, just outside the airport. I just had to find my way out, was all. I asked a state trooper how to get out to East Boston, and after thinking a while he said I should go back to Terminal E and follow the sidewalk towards the gas station.

Took me a while, and another wrong turn, at which point another state trooper, who had been parked on a side street, asked me where I was going and pointed the way. I didn't care, though, because I genuinely felt a great sense of relief at finally being back in America. Complain though I might about police and government abuse, I do think that, being a natural born American citizen, I have a better shot here of not getting thrown in a dark hole than I would in another country, including the "sophisticated" states of the European Union with their charter on human rights and all.

Had to walk a few blocks and take the overpass over the entrance to the Mass Pike, but the time was well spent because what did I stumble across upon my return to the States but... a Colombian restaurant!!! Hellz yeah. I thought I would have to wait to get back to Houston, back to the house, and for my mother to cook some lunch, but I got my tostones much sooner than I expected. Half of the steak was tough and gristly, but the meal was still good, and it was a shame I had to leave half of it. I knew going in I wouldn't be able to finish, but I really wanted that bandeja tipica.

Found a shorter way back to Terminal A--that state trooper had been wrong.

Went upstairs and found an area where several other passengers looked like they were camped out for the night--safety in numbers, you know. Tucked my backpack behind a cart or display or something and used my spar eclothes to make a pillow on the bag. The floor immediately felt really cold, and I wished I had some cardboard, like the homeless people use. I got up and looked around and spotted a newspaper. Laid the sheets down under me, and they actually helped to cut down on the cold. Really wished I'd had a blanket, and the night's sleep sucked without it, but it was free, and free of risk of missing my flight.

August 13, 2009

Up at 8:45, and I managed to check out and do all my online stuff in time to reach the final Starbucks just minutes before 10:00 AM, when the Reina Sofia museum would open. No time, and no point in arguing about having to put my backpack in a locker--I just removed the essentials and proceeded. Asked the staff about the modern art, and I was directed to an annex where I found art that was quite recent, many from the 60s and 70s. Lots of Spain artists, for some reason. Not that many Picassos, maybe just one or two. Still, well worth it, and with an entry fee of just 6 euros, I did not mind spending a relatively short amount of time in just one gallery and then returning another time. Actually I went to a second gallery that had really modern art, from the 90s or more recent. Photographs and 3D installations, interesting stuff.

I had been told by a barista that both Starbucks at the airport, in Terminal 4, were behind security. I found this hard to believe, so when I arrived at the airport and finished checking in with 40 minutes to spare, I could not help but rush off to find the bus that was supposed to get me to T4 in about 10 minutes. By taking the bus, I was able to see something really unusual--the terminal was really, really far away.

The baristas had not been wrong. Hard as it was for me to believe, both stores were indeed past security. WHY???

I had a seat towards the front of the plane, right behind first class, but that gave me no speed advantage because after deboarding we had to take a shuttle bus to the terminal. So much for beating everybody past customs. Bah.

Headed straight for the tourist desk, showed the agent my laptop, and asked her how to get to the three shopping centers (shopping centers, AARRGHH). One by metro, two by bus from metro stops, and the fourth I assumed to be within walking distance of the hostel (but I found later I was probably wrong).

Out at the bus stop a young man from Holland translated for me, in asking a lady how much the bus was. 1.30, she said, but it turned out to be 1.40. Strange that she, sitting at the bus stop, would not know the price of a ticket.

Exact change required--more to keep track of in the short time I'd be in the city.

Right away, at the bus stop, on the bus, and later on the subway, I noticed more people who were dark-skinned, presumably of African descent, than in Spain, or any other European city other than in neighborhoods that were clearly concentrations of some ethic group.

Unlike in Spain, the electronic sign on the buses, at least the first one I took, in Lisbon, did not give the next stop.

First store in Portugal, Dolce Vita shopping center, seemingly a high-end one. Security was everywhere, including a guard not that far from the store. If I shot from the other direction, I would have to be in a hallway that allowed two different guards to see me. Fortunately, while I spoke to the baristas and fiddled with my laptop, the guard became preoccupied talking to some man and then walked down the hall and into a corridor. That was my chance!!!!

I snapped a couple of suboptimal shots and immediately went into the store to copy them into my laptop, and then I shot some better ones. If necessary, I could placate the guards by deleting the photos on the camera--they would not realize I had already copied them. Resisting was going to be much harder at this mall, because I did not speak the language, because I might have to wait a long time for the bus, so I couldn't really get away, and because there was a police station downstairs. If the police did not speak English, it was almost a sure bet they would detain me until someone who did speak English was found to interrogate me.

No time to find food in the city, so I had a burger from this joint in the mall, and it was damn good.

As many times as I have to ask for directions from people, this project would certainly take much much longer if I didn't know multiple languages.


Comboio Belem

Caught a break at the Belem store by meeting a girl from America, from Jersey even, who happened to live very close to the Almada Forum store and wrote down some specific directions for me.

Of course she didn't know everything--she directed me to take the 149 to Alegro, but when I asked a young woman to confirm this she said the 113 that was waiting would also get me there.

Cranberry + orange juice from a British company called Feel Good Drinks Co. Not great, but not bad. What was interesting was that when I looked on the back at the ingredients I saw the word "arandano". Shortly upon arriving in Spain I came under the impression that arandano was the word for "blueberry", as in the blueberry muffins from Starbucks. So had I been eating cranberry muffins all along, or was the word for blueberry and cranberry the same?

Alegro, Jumbo, saw Auchan on screen, close back but only two zippers, stupid, Portugal with the four-pack yogurts, can't see what guards look like, finally see one, stupid customer walks into what would have been a good shot

AARRGHH!!! Nearly a month without letting the computer power down hibernate, and I hit the stupid hibernate option by mistake!!! My heart sank, and I feared that I would have to finish the trip sans laptop (which I could, at that point, have done). Fortunately, it came back up, lending credence to my hypothesis that the placeholder for the PCMCIA slot had been the problem.

Meanwhile, I had been waiting on the laptop to make sure that I had copied over the two initial photos, in case I had a problem with security. While I waited I heard an announcement over the loudspeaker, which probably had to do with the fact that it was 9:55, perhaps all the shops closing. I also saw a pair of differently-uniformed men pass by, perhaps police. A minute or two later the guard I had seen passed by. I couldn't be sure that I hadn't been observed on the video, although if that had been the case, they could have easily seen me go back into the Starbucks.

Got the photos with no trouble, but when I got out to the bus station I waited for an hour without seeing a bus stop. I did see the 113, after about 30, but IT DID NOT STOP!!! I had no idea if the stop was even operating at that hour, and during my wait I had seen people on the hill up above walking in a different direction, so I walked up to invetigate and saw a different station. This one was for a bus that would take me to Alges, from where I could catch the Comboio back to the metro at Cais do Sodre. Of course while I waited there, a bus finally showed up at the other station. AARRGHH!!!

Meanwhile, I kept finding that my assumption had been wrong, that I would find more Portugese who spoke Spanish than English. It was very much the other way around.

Meanwhile, the 11-week jeans (plus some wear before my trip) were truly on their last legs. Good thing I was on the last day of my trip, because that crotch doesn't look like it has much life left.

Didn't get to see Lisbon, really, as none of the stores were in the city center, and my time was limited. Of all my visits to major world cities, I think this was my shallowest. I did, however, get treated to this cool street decoration upon exiting the metro at the Baixa-Chiado station and walking down Rua da Vitoria.

August 12, 2009

9:07, no way to sleep any more with stupid dormmates moving around all the time plus leaving the door open. This room, my third in three nights, was right down the hall from the lobby and front desk, and the door, if not shut properly, tended to open, thus letting in all the chatter.

The morning continued to be blah as I proceeded to miss an opportunity to go to Valencia. I had been so exhausted the night before that I had decided to wait until morning to check on flights. Well, as soon as I did, around 9:30 or so, maybe a bit later, I found a round-trip for $100--well worth it. But the flight was leaving at 2:40 and returning at 9:50, and I needed to determine whether I could make the flight (I thought I could) and more importantly, whether I could get to all the Valencia stores. Well, by the time I finished plotting them, amidst looking up other stuff online, and went back to book the flight, it was gone!!! I still had a option that would have left at 3:40 and returned at 7:00 AM the next morning, but that options was twice as expensive and would require that I sleep at the airport. My heart just wasn't in it, and I closed the Travelocity with the knowledge that if any of those stores closed, I would be kicking myself.

Not only did I miss Valencia, but by the time I left the hostel it was past 11:00, and I missed my chance at the breakfast I wanted, at some nearby cafes. I was craving a fried egg though, so I walked around until I found a bar/restaurant serving breakfast until noon. It was Chiky, on Calle Major, and I have to say it was the worst fried egg, bacon, and toast breakfast I had tasted during my entire trip.

I walked over to the Sol station, wiping my greasy hands as I did so, and grudgingly plunked another 10.40 into the machine for a T zone tourist card. Had I bought it for two days to begin with, I would have saved 3.20, but I had been hoping to complete all my T zone travel in one day.

Can't really say how early I would have needed to start to complete all those T stores in a day, however. When I got to Alcobendas I waited a good 30 minutes, perhaps more, for the bus. When the bus arrived, at 1:09, it sat there a while. I made a mental note to ask the driver, when we arrived, when the return bus to arrive. Very important, if I wanted to avoid walking 3 miles.

This bus was the second in two days in which the ticket machine was broken. Nope, Spain sure ain't Germany.

As the bus approached the Factory Outlet I passed the Hospital Infanta Sofia, which corresponded to a metro station, and I grumbled. None of the baristas I had asked, nor the Renfe agent, had been able to tell me that the outlet was near that station. The station was maybe 10 minutes from the outlet, and I could have saved myself a long wait, and possibly done all those T stores in one day, had I know. Bah.

As I headed back I felt really hungry and exited at Gregorio Maranon to see what I could find. I walked along Calle de Maria de Molina and saw little in the way of restaurants--wrong choice of stop, apparently. But on a side street I found a bar that served me up some pretty good lentejas and chuleta con arroz. Thus far my two experiences had given me a good impression of Spanish bar food, much better than what I'd ever found in a bar in America. There was a major downside, however, that smoking was allowed. Both times I had no choice but to take my meal to go.

My next to las visit in Madrid, and one of my last before I returned to America, turned out to be the most dramatic. I even had a feeling it was going to go bad as I entered the Starbucks at the La Gavia shopping center, asked the guard, and was told the Starbucks was way at the other end of the mall.

Though no guard would ever be able to catch me if I took off sprinting with just my camera, I am uncertain that I could keep backpack steady enough to allow me to get away, and, even worse, to prevent my camera and/or computer from falling out from all the jostling. While that acrobatic African at the beginning of Casino Royale did a spectacular job of keeping ahold of his pack while outrunning Bond, I doubt I could ever accomplish the same. Maybe if the backpack was attached to my back and front, but even then it is quite a risk.

Instead, I played along with the guard, asking her where the regulation was. As I expected, she led me to the door, but unfortunately not the door I had come in. She showed me not a sign not an icon with a camera with a red diagonal line through it, and then she said, for the third or fourth time, "borre la foto". Her colleague had now come outside as I tapped the sign and said that this was a shopping center rule, not the law.

For all her cursing and shouting, she must have know that there were limits to her authority, because she just kept pace with me as I walked--she did not physically try to stop me, nor did her colleague. As she followed, she kept communicating with someone via her radio, telling me I was approaching the rotunda near the Carrefour. I heard him saying that I had to delete the photos. I told the female that back in America guards could ask me to leave but had no right to do anything else, and her response was something rude about going back to America. At some point she asked me if I was something that sounded like "troncon" but I could not understand. When I said as much, she shouted at me again.

As I reached the sidewalk that led out onto the street she gently, lightly, grabbed my arm, softened her tone, and started to say something like "Mira..." But as soon as I stepped off onto the street and said I was only public property she said "Tu eres un hijo de puta." She remained on the sidewalk, but the male guard followed me out onto the street and in between a couple of cars that drove around me as I kept walking. He followed, and I said that I would sue them and call the police. He responded something like daring me to do it, and asking me if I had the "cojones". He might have been trying to goad me into stopping or something, perhaps to delay me, but I kept walking as the female callied out to him "para David!" I think at this point she knew that I was off mall property and out of their jurisdiction.

Though not physically the longest walk from a Starbucks back to a metro station, this one seemed like it took forever as I made turn after turn without seeing the sign for the Metro, all the while looking backward to see if they were following me. When I actually go to the main arterial and could see the metro station, I also saw a pair of police cars approaching as I jaywalked. Heck of a way to get caught, jaywalking, I thought, but I made it across and to the station.

Those shopping center guards wore cacky tan brown uniforms with yellow insignia that looked pretty much the same as the guards in the subway station, and I had to assume they were the same company, and that there was a possibility they might have radioed ahead.

For all my bluster about suing and calling the police, I really did not want to tangle with Madrid police, because I had absolutely no idea what I might be getting myself into. Back in NYC during the Republican convention, in '04 I think, cops were arresting people left and right for no reason. They arrested people just going to the movies. In one case, a person, activist perhaps, interviewed on Democracy Now, reported that after being released his camera was returned to him with all the photos deleted except one of a cop's middle finger. So just because these Spanish police might not have the right to intervene, take my camera, etc., doesn't mean they would not actually do it. The absolute smartest thing to do was to get onto that metro train before they showed up.

Before going into the station, I ducked out of sight and copied the photos onto my laptop.

When I exited the train at the Sol station, I saw a couple of guards on the platform, and I recognized the name of the company on their insigina from back at the mall--"Prosegur". Yep, it was the same company that I'd seen at a lot of shopping centers. I had to assume that there was at least a possibility that there was a description out with the key identifying detail being a "Starbucks" t-shirt. When I got to the platform for the red line, I switched into my undershirt, just to be safe.

Meanwhile, all this drama was happening under the umbrella of my trying to make a 7:00 appointment for what I expected to be my final session of my European massage tour. When I entered the mall, a bit after 6:30, I had a faint hope of arriving just a little bit late. But after my delay, I knew I hadn't a prayer of even arriving by 7:30. It was about 6:59 when I reached the #1 line platform, and I asked almost all the persons there if they had a phone and if they could make a call for me, to no avail. After several stops on the train I saw a young woman doing some texting. I waited for the train to reach the next station and start moving, and I offered her 40 euro cents to make the call. She was helpful, and she even handed me the phone (no danger of my stealing it while the train was moving), and she did not even take my money. At the same time there was a train musician with a guitar. I usually don't give to them because, while I consider the official metro station buskers as enterprising, the ones on the train are being antisocial from the perspective that we are trapped on the train and cannot get away. However, since that young lady had helped me make the call, I gave the guy 20 euro cents.

Didn't arrive until a bit past 8:00, and I'm glad the therapist (an owner, I think), waited, because she was excellent. And the price... just 25 euros for a 50 minutes, probably a bit more. I gave her 30.

All the rushing had given me the Mighty Thirst. I had had no time to sate it while rushing to my appointment, but afterwards, it was time for a treat. Can you guess what? Oh yeah, baby, you know it... Fanta Limon!!! I downed that can before I even reached the metro station, and while on the train I tell you I was craving more.

And more I got, though I had to pay 1.20 euro for this one, on the way to the hostel.

Meanwhile, I seemed to think I was seeing more guards on the train platforms than before. These weren't even Prosegur. Was I being paranoid? Or was the entire company and all their cohorts on the lookout for a man wearing a Starbucks t-shirt.

After getting back to the hostel and doing all my online business I went out for a quick bite. Lunch had been so big that I wasn't that hungry. I just tried something called a churro, cream-filled and chocolate-covered, from a place that was still open at that late hour (nearly midnight). Las night in Spain, I figured I'd see if any of the strip clubs were any good. Along the side streets branching off from Gran Via were countless men hawking flyers for their clubs, offering free entry (with a drink purchase required). Most were around 15 euros, one claimed to be 10, and based on my impression when I walked in, I was not inclined to pay that much just to see if the place was any good. A couple looked promising, but at one the stage show would not start 'til 12:30, and at another 1:00 AM. Too late for me, as I hoped to get to the Reina Sofia when it opened at 10:00 AM, and I did not want to be tired in Lison with the limited amount of time I had. I quickly abandoned my search and went back to the hostel.

August 11, 2009

8:24, felt really crappy. Weak and feeling the beginnings of a headache. Tried to sleep as much as possible but couldn't do more than just lay there. Went ahead and took a couple of fake Excedrin, only my 2nd or 3rd of the whole trip. Down in the breakfast room, I did something extremely unusual. I actually had some crappy coffee, with milk, from the hostel, because I did not know how long it would take to get to the first Starbucks and wanted to avoid withdrawal. I felt bad enough--didn't need to add more discomfort.

As blah as I felt, however, I was not feeling so bad that I could not discover a brand new erotic experience, right there in the hostel kitchen. I'll leave the details to your imagination, and I'll just say that it never ceases to amaze me that at the elderly age of 37 I am not yet too old to make these new discoveries.

Walked towards Sol with my mind full of indecision about whether getting the T tourist card, twice as much as the A, would actually be worth the extra money. My immediate destinations were three stores in the northwest, and I had been told I could get to them via bus from the Montcloa station (which I could get to with the cheaper A card). I did not know, however, how much the bus would cost, nor whether the T card was good for buses. I meant to ask all these questions at the tourist office that was supposed to be at Sol, but I could not see one. I went down into the Metro station and still did not see an office. This station was also one for Renfe, however, and there were a couple of Renfe agents down near the gates, and opened up my laptop and asked them which destinations I could reach with the trains. When I learned I could reach Las Rozas de Madrid and also Torrelodones via the train, I figured it was worth the money to avoid messing with buses.

Unlike the German and Swiss stations, which have obvious electronic signs listing the destinations and corresponding platforms, at Chamartin I had to quickly walk down a hallway looking left and right to try and find my correct train line and destination. Grrr...

When I spotted a sign reading "Las Rozas" I rushed up the stairs and to the door of the train that was sitting there. I asked a gentleman, "este tren va ha Las Rozas?". He first said yes, and then he reversed himself and said I would have to transfer. He was very insistent on helping me and motioned to my Renfe map and indicated what I would have to do, and when I, looking unsure, stepped off the train, he beckoned me back on. I kept asking him which line I was on, but he did not tell me and kept going off on his own tangent, repeating what he had said over and over. I know he was trying to help, but he was a strange old man. Regardless, I was able to gather that I was on the C-8 that would stop at Torrelodones, and I figured I could just as easily go there first and Las Rozas after.

It was looking like it might be possible to finish that day, except Reina Sofia, and that led me to wonder if I could get to Valencia and back by train, and visit the Starbucks, in one day. Despite my lack of energy and morale, and my desire to go home, the lure of unvisited Starbucks was strong.

I had been traveling one day short of 11 weeks, and excluding five weeks in the rental car, that made six weeks of subway, train, and bus stops. In all that time, not a single female had ever said hello or otherwise spoken to me, except to ask for directions. Thus I was stunned when, at the bus stop outside the Torrelodones store, a relatively young woman (maybe early 30s) walked by and said "Hola." before sitting down. Unlike a large percentage of these Spanish women, she was no hottie, not by any means, but neither was she unattractive. Now, if she manage to avoid being crazy, it would be truly remarkable that she spoke to me.

Grrr... bus driver from Torrelodones to Las Rozas charged me 1.15. The bus said "Transportes Madrid", and I thought it was supposed to be included, but what could I do? Argue with the guy? Saved the receipt, but I doubted I would be able to get my money back even if I had been right.

Big up to the supervisor/manager at Heron City. He solved the problem I'd been looking at for a couple of days, how to get to Xanadu. I had been planning to take the Renfe to Mostoles, but he said that I'd be better of going to Principe Pio where I could find a bus directly to Xanadu, and he was right.

But wow, that was confusing. When I walked into the Xanadu store I got a vibe from the first barista, and then from the second, that led me to decide to just pay for my coffee rather than risking scorn. Two seconds later the line got long as two different groups of people walked in. I waited my turn, and before I got to the front the second barista was asking me what I wanted. I said an espresso because I thought it was the cheapest drink. The menu had a doppio listed for 1.60, and I figured the solo would be around 1.35. When I got to the front of the line I noticed that the light on the brewer was not blinking, and I asked the first barista if he had drip coffee. This one spoke really, really fast. Faster than I imagine Mexican's speak, and so fast that I had a real hard time understanding his response, which was that yes, they had drip coffee. I asked how much it was, and I thought he said 1.35, so I changed my order and went over to grab my sample cup. I said I wanted it in that cup, and he asked if I wanted a clean one. I said that was okay. He went to hunt around for the clean cups, and it took help from the second barista to find them. He handed me the coffee and I put two single-euro coins on the counter. He took them, and I could see the dislay on the register reading 1.85. I Before I could say anything he ran his card through, presumably thinking I was a partner, and the display switched to 1.66 (10% discount). At that point I, not thinking nearly as quickly as he was, because of my fatigue and generally low level of energy, said that I thought he had said 1.35 for the price. I really couldn't understand his responses, so I just repeated myself. I really can't remember the full exchange, but the upshot was he ended up saying I could take the cup for free. Whew.

All the stores that day had been in shopping centers, which meant all day I had had to worry about fucking security. Was hassled twice, at Xanadu, and at Rivas Futura, and by that final store, when that asshole security guard spoke to me, I really wanted to shoot him in the head.

Not only was this guy taking up four seats and stinking up the train car, look at where his hand is.

August 10, 2009

8:27, could hardly believe I was still sleeping that much.

Breakfast provided, but nothing at the like the French hostels. Toast instead of baguette is fine by me, with no juice I had to eat it with plain water. Bah. Wouldn't have even bothered if I hadn't been downloading because I could not get a signal in the room.

Weird. The Deutsche Bank ATM here in Madrid rejected my transaction. I decided to try Santander--if I just got hit with the $5 BofA fee, that would still be way better on 140 euro than the exchange bureau was offering. Sure, I might find a place with a good rate and no commission, away from the touristy areas, but I didn't have time to look for that.

Along Calle de Goya I popped into a bakery and spotted something called "salchicha en hojaldre". The hojaldre looked nothing like the ones that my grandmother made, a style found in Panama, but I could not resist trying. I love hojaldres. Not the same thing, from this bakery, but it was okay for a sausage roll.

AARRGHH!!! NO NO NO NO NO!!! From Conde de Penalver I walked up to find Calle de Juan Bravo #52. When I got up to Juan Bravo and saw #53 across the street, but no Starbucks, I first though that #52 was out of place, as can be the case with European street addresses. Then I noticed that the unit on the opposite corner was under construction, and I had a sinking feeling. I was still hopeful as I crossed the street, hopeful that the store listing had been for an upcoming store. As I looked around for the unit number, I saw a sign on the window with the Starbucks logo, but it did not say "coming soon"--instead it directed patrons to the two nearest stores. I walked into the doorway and asked the men working if there had been a Starbucks there. They said it had closed. I asked when. They said a while ago. I asked if it was going to open again, and then said yes!!! Yes, it was just being remodeled, I thought, despite the evidence against that possibility right before my eyes. I asked again, if the Starbucks would open again, and they clarified--no, the Starbucks was gone.

With all the unvisited closures I'd encountered across the UK, Germany, Barcelona, and the knowledge that stores had to be closing around the world, I had more or less come to terms, and each closure discovery did not hurt as much. But this one did. It was the fact that the store was right there, before me, that I had walked to it, that I could see the men taking it apart, that I could still see the Starbucks wallpaper on the back wall. Those facts made it all the more real, and I as I walked away my heart was sinking. I angry, weak, demoralized. WHY WERE THEY DOING THIS TO ME??? Was I in hell? Was this hell, the endless pursuit of an impossible goal? Was I the new Sysiphus, or more appropriately, the new Tantalus? I couldn't help but wonder if I should just end it all. What was the point of living if my goal was to be so unattainable. I guess the only thing keeping me from rushing out in front of a bus at that point was a burning need to know how Lost ends. Must hang on 'til then.

I sat at the other Juan Bravo store a while, too weak too move.

Hey!!! The sugar packet here in Spain reads "acucar", with the first C having the little hook below it, instead of "azucar".

My walk to the next store was laconic. There was no spring in my step, no bounce, only spiritless plodding along.

I finally got my lentils, in the form of a dish called "lentejas leonenses", from a bar/restaurant near the Pedro Texeira Starbucks. Given the price, 4.25 euro, I wondered if it would be enough for a meal, and I was pleasantly surprised to find a sizeable container that included potatoes and pork. With rice, it would have been a great meal, but rice seems to be notably missing from Spanish menus with the exception of paella.

I took the food over to the Starbucks, and as I sat there in the large yet nearly empty store I couldn't help but wonder if it was to suffer the same fate as those other Madrid locations.

The next few hours saw me extremely fatigued, and I was not sure if it was the demoralization that resulted from the Juan Bravo closure, or if it was something else. Mono, that bacterial infection from last year, and various types of colds and flus all resulted in fatigue similar to what I was feeling, and I was starting to worry that I might be getting sick. If I hadn't been under such time pressure I would have returned to the hostel.

Still, I made it to the three shopping center stores, La Vaguada, Dreams, and Plenilunio, the latter which involved a 1 to 1.5 mile walk, and then I headed back to town. Exited the metro at Callao so I could find some food, and after passing up a few places I settled on Cafeteria Armenias, for some chicken soup with rice. Afterwards I did something wholly uncharacteristic of me--I orrdered dessert, apple pie. Made with flan there (in Spain in general?), pretty good. And even more uncharacteristic, I did not ask the price before I ordered. It turned out to be steep 3.90, but I didn't care. Despite my tragedy, I had made it through the day without jumping off an overpass, and that alone deserved a treat. Since I already knew I wasn't going to get anything from the girls back at the hostel, apple pie would have to do.

Meanwhile, back in America, baristas continued to be bitchy/assholy when I called to confirm store closures. I'll continue to point out that Starbucks could easily stop this aggravation by publishing the closure dates on their website.

Somebody shoot me please. In the kitchen, so I can get a strong wi-fi signal and sit at a table, I have to listen to four American young women, bleach-blonde California types, and they are so banal that I don't even know them and I hate them already. OMG they're talking about their difficulty urinating, the sizes of their bladders, and constipation.

August 9, 2009

Though I got up around 8:30, I left the hostel too late, and dawdled too much here and there, and by the time I finished the final store it appeared I'd be cutting it close for the airport. Caught a rare break though, and reached Plaza Espanya and located the stop for bus #46 just as it was about to leave.

Well, there was a new one on me--the staff of many of the restaurants in the airport were on strike! With slim pickings post-security, I had to go back outside for an acceptable food option.

All things considered, Barcelona had been pretty easy. After plotting out all these faraway shopping center stores, I knew Madrid was going to be more of a challenge, and that challenge began right away upon landing at Barajas airport. Two airport locations listed on the Starbucks website, but the agent at the information desk told me there was just one, in Terminal 4. I asked him if he was sure, and he proceeded to call two other agents and obtain the same answer. On the way to the shuttle bus to Terminal 4, I asked at a different information desk and got the same answer, plus the additional piece of information that the Terminal 4 was airside, a critical piece of info that had been omitted from the website. That meant that my flight to Lisbon had only a 1 in 4 chance of scoring me that store. I should have done the research of course, but I have so much data to worry about.

On top of that, I began to feel dizzy as the plane began its descent. As I exited the plane and walked down the corridor, I was having trouble walking steady. I was worried about food poisoning and swine flu, of course, but my primary concern was that I might consume the coffee from a store and then throw it up, which would pose a real problem for my project. My suspicion was that the Advisory Board would rule the store did not count if I threw up the coffee before it had been fully metabolized.

Next problem, the discovery that the ticket machines did not accept foreign credit cards. I could only use a foreign card at the Tourism Office at the airport, or at the one near/at the Sol station. After my experience in Paris and Barcelona, I realized that I could save money by not buying the card right away and instead visiting as many stores as possible on foot before buying the car. Thus instead of buying 4 days (which wasn't an option anyway), I could buy just 3, or 2. However, I still had to get to the city, which meant burning 2 euros and leaving me just 40. Back in Paris, where there was a fee-free ATM for me, I had just made a ballpark estimate of how much more I would need, but I was off. Perhaps I could make the 40 last if I could pay for food only with cards, but not if I had to pay for transportation with cash.

This time around it was easy enough to check into the Way Hostel first and then walk to a cluster of Starbucks, the nearest being a mile away, and get at least four, I hoped, before they closed for the night. Thought I'd been gillyganked, though, when I arrived at Infantas 40 and saw no Starbucks. I grumbled and quickly looked up the next closest stores, on Calle de Genova. Had I taken a different route, I would have missed the Infantas store, which was actually at a different street number.

Got lucky again!!! Could have taken any of several streets north to Calle de Genova, but I chose Calle de Barquillo, and because of that I happened to stumble across Fernando VI, a store that AutoRoute could not find, and for which I did not have a postal code (so I didn't even know what part of the city it was in).

Pollo Campero, had no idea it was in Spain.

Made it to five stores, and no problems getting samples, but because of the late hour I had to take espresso shots at three. Good thing my dizziness went away. Regardles, sleep was going to be difficult to come by.

Headed back towards the hostel from Princesa 40 along Calle Gran Via looking for a place to eat. Started down a side street, but then I noticed it appeared to be mostly Asian restaurants, like a little Chinatown or something. Stayed on Gran Via until I spotted Cafeteria Rande off to the side. Not sure if this is exactly Spanish food, but I ordered the chorizo con huevos fritos y patatas. I just didn't feel like looking any further. The lentil soup I had on the brain would have to wait.

Fucking asshole. I specifically asked him if I could pay with an American Visa card before I ordered, and the waiter said yes. So why did he come back to me after the meal saying both the cards I tried were declined. It was the restaurant's machine, surely, as I had used my card just hours earlier at the hostel with no problem. I could hardly believe my card was the first they had tried to run that day. Bullshit. The upshot--nearly a third of my remaining euros gone, and with them any hope of making the cash last four days.

Three shots of espress late into the night, cause dreams to be lacking in joy and delight. Missing my flight multiple times, being shot at, and several other disturbing scenarios.

Oh, but there was Lost. I dreamt about Lost. Always a good thing.

August 8, 2009

Didn't go to bed that late, because the wi-fi was not working, so why did I struggle so much to get out of bed. Managed it just around 9:00 I think, which meant I wouldn't be making it to La Roca by 10:00 AM, but hopefully by 11:00 and before the mall got busy.

Boy, did I see this coming. Validates all the effort I put into the UK.

Listening to a news report, my third or fourth, about the film Julie and Julia made me hungry for some of my favorite foods. As my return to America neared, I kept dreaming about all the foods I was going to eat, as much an as quickly as possible. Beignets, beans, rice, tostones, bandeja paisa, biscuits with real scrabbled eggs and bacon, peproni rolls, burritos from Freebirds, Tradewinds tea, pig feet--oh, my mouth is watering.

Not knowing how long it would take to reach La Roca Village, I decided to make a quick stop at the Sagrada Familia store, so I wouldn't start jonesing and so I could get some juice and a pasty. Just outside the station was this massive structure, still under construction. I'd no idea what it was--my best guess is that this will be Disneyland Barcelona, and that all those people lined up in front are waiting for its completion (in 2030, I was told).

Tried the brand of yogurt at Spanish Starbucks, Pur Natur, and it was actually pretty good. Perhaps the best yogurt brand that I had found at Starbucks (though not even close to my favorite yogurt brands).

At the Sant Andreu metro station I saw something completely different, platforms for boarding/deboarding the train from either side. Years of riding the metro in major cities across Europe, and I'd never seen that before.

ASSHOLE!!! This wouldn't have happened in Germany. I arrived at the Sant Andreu station and asked the ticket agent how to get to La Roca. His tone and attitude clearly indicated he did not give a flip, and he told me I needed to go to Granollers and take a bus. I looked at the sign listing departures and saw that the next train for Granollers was nearly an hour away. I had trouble believing that their was no earlier train, so I tried to figure out if Granollers was on the way to any of the other destinations. I returned to the counter and asked the agent if the train to Sant Celoni stopped at Granollers, and he said yes. "Ese es el proximo tren que para en Granollers?" It was finally at that point he told me that, no, the next train was actually the one that was leaving. No, make that the train that had just left, by the time I got down to the platform. AARRGHH!!! In Germany, in Switzerland, probably around London too, the agents would have told me to hurry to the platform if the train was about to leave.

Interesting. In between stops, out in a wooded area, a man ran out into the middle of the street and waved at the bus. The man then made a shrugging gesture and waved both hands in front of it. I can't really describe it will because I don't know Spanish gestures. Anyway, the bus driver actually stopped and let him on, something I doubt I would see in other countries. New York City--forget about it.

Wow, it was nearly 1:30 when I arrived, meaning it took me about 4 hours to reach that store, including the brief stop at Sagrada Familia. After missing that first train at Sant Andreu, I missed the bus to the center by 5 minutes, or so I was told, and I had to wait about an hour for the next one. And that trip took over 30 minutes. Looks like my only chance to reach the center before it got busy was to get up really, really early (or rent a car).

But it gets better. After waiting a long time, from various angles, to get photos with as few people in front as possible, I was told by the supervisor that there would be no more buses back to the station until 5:00!!! SAY WHAT WHAT WHAT??? I was stuck at an outlet mall for three hours???

With all the things I could have done down in Barcelona, spending 3 hours at an outlet village was nowhere near the top of my list. Since I needed to charge my laptop, catch up on my blog, and plot Starbucks in Madrid, I did not mind so much, but I still had to eat. Didn't see many options, so I ordered an overpriced spaghetti bolognese from Cafe & Te. One of the lamest spaghetti meals of my trip, in part because they put hardly any sauce on the noodles, and in part because the noodles did not have the proper firmness, too pasty, like they had been overcooked.

Another effect of the wait was that by the time the bus arrived around 5:07, a good bit of a line had built up, and boarding was chaos, with everyone trying to push onto the bus as if it were going to fill up. It did not look to me like there were nearly that many people waiting, and the bus did not end up filling.

On the other hand, the supervisor at that store was exceptional friendly, one of the most welcoming of my Barcelona visits.

Uh-oh. Too many Madrid stores in far away shopping centers. Given how long it took to visit La Roca Village, a car rental looked necessary.

I had a feeling from the moment I walked into the Maremagnum store, from the way the barista at the counter was looking at me as I plugged in my computer and then walked over to the condiment bar for a napkin so I could wipe my brow. As I waited in line, I hoped he would not be the supervisor. When I got up to the front, he said he was, I and I said I would wait for the line to die down. After a good bit of waiting, I decided to use some of the time to try for a good photo, crowded though the mall was. After a minute he came out, with a very serious look on his face, and said "usted queria hablar con el supervisor". I could see the line was still long, so I ran through my spiel very quickly. His response--"esta prohibido tomar photos." 610 stores visit during that trip to Europe, and this was the first barista to tell me this, and in a somewhat aggressive tone. I can't remember what I responded, but we went back inside the store, as he had agreed to give me the sample. However, he had offended me so much with his anti-freedom declaration and his tone that I did not want to accept the sample. When he gave it to me, set it on the counter and left it there, and I waited in line to buy my own drink. As I did so, he came back over to where I was in line and asked "vas a comprar algo", in a tone that more or less said "I don't want you here, get the fuck out." He couldn't of course say that, but the implication in question, "Are you going to buy something?" was clear. And so the first Spanish store becomes a store of shame.

Perhaps he was like Anakin Skywalker, aka Darth Vader, trying to bring balance to the "Force" of Starbucks customer service. Since the supervisor at La Roca had been exceptionally friendly, he was trying to balance it out?

Meanwhile, as I sugared my latte, a young man seated on a bench out in the mall kept holding his phone up and pointing it at the Starbucks. Can't be sure, but he might have been taking photos. And if somebody were up to no good, that's exactly how he would do it, with a subtle phone camera, not with a glaringly obvious DSLR. But these anti-photo morons can't seem to realize that.

Back at the Drassanes station, only one gate was working. A tall dark-haired young man with some coins in his hand kept moving around and took a place in line ahead of me, behind another young man, blonde, who I assumed was his friend. The blonde's ticket did not work, and he turned around and headed away from the gate. I went through, and as I did I felt the dark-haired young man push his way through behind me. First time that had happened, and I could not react quickly enough, if I had wanted to. Not my job, in any case.

Down at the platform, I sat down and pulled out my laptop. A few seconds later the train approached, and I rushed to jot down enough of my thought so that I would remember later. As I did so, a uniformed woman with a muzzled dog tapped the man next to me, who had apparently been sleeping, and said something I barely caught, the gist of which was that it was time to go (to get on the train). First time I had seen that, too.

As I deboarded, the man was still trying to sleep, leaning against a railing, perilously close to the door in my opinion.

Though I failed at fighting crime by not preventing that guy from following me through the gate, I did my good deed for the day a bit later. As I exited at the Diagonal station I saw an older Asian couple trying to communicate with a uniformed guard of some sort. I observed for a few seconds and then asked them, "Do you speak English." Of course they did, and I was able to translate their question, where the McDonald's was--their hotel was nearby. Had they actually been looking to eat at the McDonald's, I would not have helped them, but since they were just trying to find their hotel it was okay.

Holy Mary Mother of God, that was ridiculous. I had gotten off a Diagonal so I could change to the L5, but there was a detour requiring a walk back down to the Passeig de Gracia station that I had skipped while on the train. From their I decided to change my plans and head to Tetuan, just one station over, on the L2. Well, as it turned out, from the point I entered the station, I had to walk a ridiculous distance, going up, going down, turning, to get to the L2. By the time I reached the platform I was convinced that I could have just walked to Tetuan above ground, and if was farther, it couldn't have been by much, and definitely more comfortable (the tunnels are hot).

August 7, 2009

8:53, breakfast cost 2.50 euro, but I preferred to spend 2.90 (or maybe less) on really good orange juice and a pastry.

Met the district manager of the northern Barcelona area, and he was very helpful but also gave me sad, sad news, that two stores have already closed in Seville, and four in Madrid. Even as I felt the pieces of my soul rippng away, I held out hope that most, or all, of the Madrid closures were stores I had already visited. If all four were unvisited, I don't know if I could take the shock to my system.

AHA!!! After seeing Barclays and Deutsche Bank in Barcelona, I wondered if I could use their ATMs fee-free here in Spain. After googling I found a post from a person who was charged $5 by BofA for using the Barclays ATM in Barcelona. I suspect the same is true for Deutsche Bank, and until I know for sure that this is not the case, I'm staying away.

Through 12 stores, the balance had shifted, from the uncertain reactions of the first few stores to much more friendliness at the latter stores.

After those three stores of the morning, and juice and a pastry, it was time to head out to one of the two faraway shopping center stores. The DM said Sabadell was easier, so I figured I'd take care of that first. I was to take a train called the Renfe from Cataluyna, but after walking over half a mile from the Paseo de Gracia store I found the entrance to the Renfe closed. Had to take the Metro to a different station. I was in no hurry, but, nevertheless, bah, I say.

Good thing I was in no hurry, really, because that was not my only mixup. The DM had told me, or perhaps I had misheard, that there are two stations in Sabadell, north and south. But there was a third, central. When we stopped at Sabadell Sud I got up and got ready to leave, and at the next station I exited without paying attention to the sign until it was too late. With no idea how long it would be before the next train, I just hoofed it through town to see what I could see. Not much, really, as most of the shops were closed, in typical Spanish tradition. I did notice, however, less Spanish than in Barcelona. I glanced at the menu of a restaurant that was open, and it was all in Catalan.

On the train back to Barcelona an extremely annoying woman holding a baby boarded and started doing this type of chat soliciting donations for her child. Much more annoying than the ones out on the street that you can just walk past. Most passengers ignored her, but I suspect I am the only one who actively wanted her and the child to die, and who would willingly kill that selfish drain on society if it were legally sanctioned. Of course I do not blame just her, but also the Spanish government for allowing her and child to exist in such a state when it has the power, via forced adoption, abortion, and sterilization, as well as softer sanctions, to dramatically reduce the number of children who lack an adequate means of support. Instead, the government chooses to look the other way and let them suffer. Technically you could argue that I, and all the other passengers, let that woman and child suffer, by not killing her, but I do not have the same power that government that does to kill without fear of punishment.

Here & Now, car phone use

Cold Souls

Um... the one in London is much, much prettier.

Oh, why the heck not? I've tried fried rice in the U.S., Canada, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Britain, and Germany. So why not try it in Spain. Jin Fu? Fu Jin? Can't remember the name of the restaurant (so much for my diligant record keeping--I'll probably have trouble someday because I did not record that meal properly), but it was pretty good.

Took my takeout over to the grocery store for a soda, and I must say I was truly torn, between the Coca-Cola and the Fanta Limon. I'm very much used to having Coke (when I can't have Tradewinds tea) with my Chinese food, but I was also going through a Fanta Limon phase.

Walked down to Sala X to see if that strip show was any good. Had to buy a drink, for 4 euros, and once again I was torn. Seeing another patron with a Coke, I ordered that. But before the waitress, on rollerblades, had removed the cap, I asked if she had Fanta Limon. As she was taking out the Fanta Limon, I changed my mind again and asked her for a Coke. She gave me an impatient look. Incidentally, the show was lame. I have no idea what those bloggers were talking about. The two dancers I saw did not even get nude.

Later, at the hostel, another Fanta Limon. I've always though that I could try crack cocaine just one without getting addicted, but after my magic donut and Fanta Limon experience, I am having doubts.

August 6, 2009

Forced myself up, so I would not miss breakfast, shorrly before 9:00, after not even six hours of sleep. Yay, verily had I stayed up way too late the night before. Didn't think I had spent that much time finding and checking out Salsa X, but the next thing I knew it was 2:00 AM. Then, when I got to the hostel, I called Bank of America to investigate yet another charge by Hertz, and the whole process, involving several tries, lost calls, and multiple agents, kept me up 'til past 3:00 AM.

The lack of customer service at HelloBCN continued into the morning. All I was asking the young man at the desk was for permission, when I asked if we (guests) were to prepare our own breakfasts (at many hostels you don't). His snide response, "pues nosotros no te lo vamos a preparar."

This, on top of the curt, possibly rude, e-mails from Danielle, and the utter lack of helpfulness of the night attendant with the wi-fi, and the frigid temperature of the room, and I had to give this hostel a thumbs down despite the free and fast wi-fi.

Passed up the first store because when I passed it was partially obscured by the truck to my left while I was looking to my right at the begging lady sitting on the sidewalk and thinking back to the other homeless I had seen the night before,wondering if what the pattern in this city was. I doubled back a couple of minutes later and found the store, busy as I expected (should have gotten up earlier).

While in line I waited for a moment to catch a barista's attention as he stocked the pastries, and I asked about the manager or supervisor. He said it was he, and unfortunately he did not seem like he would be very friendly. The line was not getting any shorter, and I wondered if I should give my spiel. When the supervisor took over the register it looked like it wasn't going to happen, but I did want to at least get filter coffee, and I asked the other barista if they had any. They did not, because the Columbia Shuttle wasn't getting any water pressure (or something like that), and I commented that the one at Pelayo had also been broken. Well, I think my gut about this guy was right, because in response to my simply pointing a coincidence, a perfectly natural act, this asshole gave me a nasty look and said "puedes mirarla si quieres", implying that I was doubting the fact that the machine wasn't working. I had to end up buying an espresso, which I was getting sick of, and four stores in my Barcelona tour I was less than thrilled with the reception I was getting from the baristas.

At least the shot of espresso was cheaper than in Paris.

Fifth store, finally filter coffee, and a supervisor who, though extremely busy with the line, managed to take a minute to come talk to me.

OMG that was the funniest thing, outside of The Daily Show or The Colbert Report, I'd seen in a long time. Just west of the Starbucks, a pair of performers dressed as demons were entertaining a crowd of onlookers. An older lady passed by with a dog, a cocker spaniel I think, on a leash, and as it passed the male demon pretended to lunge down at it. The dog just freaked out, backing away, paws sliding on the pavement, straining against the leash with all its might to get away from the demon. Precious.

Further down, more performers in mono-chrome body paint, gothic, monstrous, elegant perhaps. Further down still, what I assumed to be a flamenco dancer in a bright red and white dress. Also along the avenue, but not a performer, a shirtless young man who had quite a bit of acne, and also an odd-looking pattern of neutral-colored bumps, on his back. If my back looked like that I would not go shirtless no matter how hot it was.

Went back to Rambla Catalunya for a reshoot, and then I went inside to ask about Ronda Sant Pere. Lucked out, as the barista, on her break, sitting next to me, happened to be a fan of Starbucks and said she knew where all the stores in the city were. She was able to help me plot out the remaining stores, and I was relieved to discover that only two were well outside of Barcelona, in shopping centers. She said I could get to both by train, but that the connections would be difficult.

I like to say that advertising does not work on me, but is it the same thing when a sale is advertised? On the way to Ronda Sant Pere I passed a perfume store and allowed the young lady to hand me a flyer (I usually shun them--flyers, not young ladies). I went inside and asked about the local Spanish brands, and several were on sale, so I picked up a second for moms.

Lunchtime, popped into a place called Viejo Pop for some tapas. Well, I had the jambon, which I hear is popular in Spain, patatas, which turned out to be garden-variety fries, and bread. Not a great meal.

Whoa! That was a first, I think. Walking from Comtal to Via Laietena I passed a busty woman and couldn't believe what I thought I saw. I had to turn around and investigate, and as luck would have it she and her friend walked into a clothing store, making it really easy for me to walk past her again and confirm my suspicions. Yep, behind her tight-fitting pink top was no bra, and while the top was not sheer, the fabric was thin enough that little was left to the imagination regarding her nippleage. I can't say I see that every day.

Ach!!! So hot in Barcelona, hot enough that I rush to unwrap my long-sleeved shirt from my waist as soon as I can, and as a result I almost... well, I did leave it at the Via Laietana store. Thankfully it was still there. Though I expect the weather in Barcelona, Madrid, and Lisbon to be warm, I would need the shirt for the flights.

Took me much less time to find a massage than in France or Germany. Actually, I could have found one sooner, right across the street from the Ronda Sant Pere store, but the price, 56 euros for the hour, seemed a bit high. Given the look of the place, pretty fancy, I figured they were higher-priced than many. I was right, and a few minutes down the road I spotted a place that had a quarter-hour for 33.

The massage was excellent, but there was a price to be paid. The therapist managed to squeeze a 45-minute session in to her schedule and had to rush off to catch the train. I wasn't sure if she was waiting for me to get dressed and tip her before I left (I put it on the card anyway), so I put my pants on too fast and expanded the hole in the left leg. I caught myself before I destroyed the pants, and I could still wear them, but the gap was so large as to no longer be "fashionable", no matter how young I look.

Air-conditioned metro train. Given the heat, probably a good thing for keeping people, like, alive.

Headed to the hostel to check in, and not a minute too soon. I forgot to ask the receptionist for a bottom bed, and when I asked her to move me, it turned out there was just one bottom bed left. The hostel seemed nicer, but there was one problem apparent right away--no onsite laundry facilities. I really needed to do laundry something awful, and the receptionist said there was nothing nearby. I walked to Avinguda Diagonal, but I passed no laundry on the way to the first Starbucks.

MOTHERFUCKERS!!! These Spanish are not like the English and the Germans. They don't know how to keep to the right on the escalator, and several times they have blocked me and caused me to miss my metro train.

Got off at Placa Universitat and asked a couple of people, then at the Starbucks. Nothing. Walked up towards Placa Catalunya, where two people had said I might find a laundromat, but I saw nothing. I asked at another Starbucks, and I was directed to the plaza where there is a tourist information center. After quite a bit of a wait in line, an attendant printed me out a map to Buga Matic, some 15 minutes away. Say what what what? I figured that in Europe, with small flats and all that, many people would not have washing machines and need laundromats. So why it took me so long to find a laundromat, I really did not know.

ARE YOU KIDDING ME??? ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME??? This would never happen in America (I don't think it's allowed). Because of the the heat and the walking around, I spent most of the day feeling the Mighty Thirst (that water cannot cure). While I waited for the laundry, I dropped a euro into the vending machine and pressed the button for a lemon beverage. Except it wasn't a softdrink... IT WAS BEER!!! FUCKING BEER!!! WHO THE FUCK PUTS BEER INTO A VENDING MACHINE??? I don't like beer, to begin with, and the lemon did not help. I offered it to the next guy that came in, but he said he could not drink beer. I hated to waste it, but I had no more energy to keep offering it to people, so I set it on a step outside. Maybe some kid would find it. Same thing I do with my unwanted porn, leave it at the middle school and make so adolescent really happy. I know when I hit puberty I was ectastic any time I found any old, worn, beat up porn magazines out on the sidewalk, street, etc.

Hmm... Fanta Limon is actually pretty good, kind of like Squirt.

But I was more irritated by the fact that the only drying option was four euros!!! Obviously I can afford it, but I hate to be anally raped by vending machines. When I can find machines in the U.S. that will give you 5-10 minutes, all I need, for 25 or 50 cents, 4 euros is highway robbery. Heck, those 4 euros would buy me a beer at Sala X so I could see the strip show that the people on the blog said involved things unseen in tamer parts of the world.

Eventually I said fuck it, I don't need dry clothes anyhow, and when I took the pants out of the wash I put them on and decided they weren't that bad. Neither was the shirt, and I knew it would dry quickly as I walked, in that heat, but it was the socks that were most uncomfortable. Something about wet socks or wet shoes that doesn't feel right to me.

Incidentally, I discovered something interesting. For days I had been wondering how I would change from my jeans to my shorts in the laundry room without giving offence. After checking into the hostel and going up to my room, it occurred to me to just put my jeans on over the shorts. After I did this, I noticed that the black fabric of the shorts, through the hole in the jeans crotch, was not as evident as the white briefs. In fact some people might even consider the look fashionable. If I could find a pair of black boxers, perhaps I could get a trend going. I've wanted to be a fashion model all my life, you know.

Really tired and sleepy by that point, so I wanted dinner from someplace on the way to the Metro. I was purposefully avoiding "cervezerias" that served food, associating them with "pub grub" in America. I could be wrong there, and their food might be perfectly fine, but regardless I went with a proper restaurant, Can Segarra. Ordered arroz negro con sepia, having no idea what sepia was. The translation is "scuttlefish", but I've never heard of that. I assume the scuttlefish was the meat spread out on the plate, which came out looking kind of like paella, with the black beans and the rice already mixed in a pan. The pan also included a few clams and some shrimp, the latter which I still didn't know how to eat. I wasn't sure if I was supposed to eat the entire shrimp or use the knife to dig out the meat, like with the clams.

Uh-oh. My addictive personally came into play again. Earlier it was the magic donuts, and now it was Fanta Limon. I had some at the laundry, then with my dinner, and then another can from the vending machine at the hostel. I guess there's worse things a person can binge on.

August 5, 2009

7:26, the earliest I had gotten up in a while, perhaps two weeks, in order to give myself more time to finish the stores and see G.I. Joe. I spent more time than expected at Berri, but my count was actually off and I only had three more stores to visit, all in the area of La Defense. Finishing all the stores was no longer and issue, but I still wanted to fit in the movie, and I was disappointed to learn I could have seen it at 9:35 (9:50 with previews) at La Defense if I had not dawdled earlier.

I did find a great option, an 11:20 screening at the Forum des Halles, very close to the Chatelet-des-Halles station where I needed to change from line A to line B for the airport. Arrived at the station just before 11:20, but I went the wrong way on Rue Rambuteau. By the time I discovered my error, turned around, and asked several people where the cinema was (the entrance was a pathway leading underground, with no obvious signs for a cinema), I had missed the very beginning of the movie. Still, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, was much, much better than expected. I had been pessimistic because the trailers looked a little cheesy and figuring that since Transformers was a big hit lighting couldn't strike twice for Hasbro.

Meanwhile, I was really hating the HelloBCN hostel in Barcelona, where I had a booking for Wednesday night. The e-mail responder Danielle had first insulted me by implying I had not filled in my full name information, and then she kept hassling me about giving an approximate arrival time without explaining why it was necessary. In fact her answers to all my questions were curt and unfriendly.

I wanted to call and actually speak to somebody, so the first thing I looked for at the airport was wi-fi. I found a connection that had the most roaming partners I'd ever seen including Boingo and BTZone, which have worked for me in the past, but my credentials were not accepted. I looked around for a cafe that had wi-fi near where I was, Terminal 2b, but there was none, and so I walked back, maybe 1/4 to 1/2 mile, to a cafe that had a sign outside toffering wi-fi. After a good wait to speak to the hostess/waitress, the wi-fi turned out to be offered by Sheraton, at a ridiculous price of 15 euros for the hour, even more than the 10 euros that the airport connection was charging. With nearly 3 hours until my flight, I decided I would go ahead and pay 20 euros for the unlimited time option. Then, as I had my credit card in my hand, I looked again at the list of roaming partners and noticed "WEROAM". Though I had been roaming at UK Starbucks via BTZone, my username was weroam/winterene, so I tried this, and it worked. Cool!

Are you kidding me??? It appears the reason I've had so much trouble plotting Barcelona locations is because AutoRoute has the street names in Catalan!!! WTF??? I found this out from Danielle, when I asked her if Calle Lafont was the same as Carrer de Lafont.

Laptop finished charging around 4:40 and I rushed over to check in. The line was not long, but really slow. 5:00 PM when I finished checking in, and with my easyJet e-mail saying registration closed at 5:15, I hurried to try and find food. Except that the passport control agent wouldn't let me through to the hall with the restaurants because I was at a different gate. Makes no sense. I didn't see any restarants back where my gate was, so I had to rush back out onto the concourse and, running out of time, subject myself to a slice from Pizza Yuck.

Not only was there no food at my easyJet gate, but there was no restroom or water either. I was sure this was a scam, to make passengers board without water and then have to by some. Fortunately the flight was just 90 minutes, and I had downed a full Pepsi before boarding. I was irritated, however, when I spotted a bottle in a man's backpack and saw liquid sloshing inside. I asked him, and they had let him go through with the bottle. Not that this is dangerous or anything, but I was really pissed that everyone else had to dump their liquids. Those motherfuckers, I blurted out.

Midway through the flight, after a brief nap, I pulled out my laptop, saw that I still had a good bit of battery, and proceeded to try and plot some more Barcelona locations. Knowing about the Catalan thing, I was able to make some guesses and convert some of the Spanish street names from my list to Catalan.

First thing I asked at the tourist info desk was about this thing called Catalan. Turns out it is a whole other language, separate from Spanish but with similarities. Moreover, it is the official language of Catalunya, the region of Spain where Barcelona is. In fact, when I finally reached the first Starbucks of the night, I was surprised to find that the menu was in Catalan with English below, but not Spanish!!!

Another thing I didn't find--filter coffee. I was told that the stores in Spain, or at least Barcelona, don't sell it so much, and stop brewing it later in the day, except the higher-volume stores. The next day, another barista contradicted that and said the stores should be brewing coffee all day. I just went with it at the time though, and took a sample of espresso.

Also missing... wi-fi.

But I get ahead of myself. I first had to get to Barcelona from the airport, and I was told that I could pay 1.35 for the #46 bus that would take 30-40 minutes, or 4 euros for the faster Aerobus. I wanted to put away a couple of stores that night, and I expected they would be open late, but I wasn't sure how late. My guess was 9:00 PM, and depending on much faster the Aereobus was, and how long it took to take me to the neares Starbucks, I might make it. Saw a couple of those buses pass by without stopping, however, over the course of at least 30 minutes, and as the time pushed past 8:00 I began to doubt that it was going to be worth it. An Aerobus finally stopped, however, and when the bus driver said he could get me to PlacaEspanya in 15 minutes, I figured I had a shot.

The bus was crowded, but I needed to open my laptop and locate Placa Espanya, so I had to disturb a grumpy headphones-wearing man to let me into the seat. And then again when I could not find Placa Espanya in AutoRoute, because I did not know it was spelled with an NY instead of the N with the squiggly above it (don't know how the word for it is spelled in English, nor the HTML code for it on my keyboard).

As I expected, stores in Barcelona are open late, 'til 10:00 PM, and I was able to get to a couple more. Could have hit a bunch more, really, but I did not want to drink that much espresso so late. At the next store, Pelayo, the supervisor said they would normally have it, but the machine was broken. At the next store, Rambla Catalunya, no filter coffee.

Odd reaction from the barista at that store. The one who said she was the supervisor also said it was her first day (at that store, I assume), and she seemed to ask the other barista for guidance when I asked for the sample. After she got it for me, I noticed her glancing over at me every few seconds. Ordinarily I would assume that the other barista had told her to keep an eye on me, but this time I wondered if she was just being curious and found my mission interesting. That would be a conflict between the paranoid and the hopeful sides of my personality.

Oh crap (and soon it will be literal), at the first store, Placa Universitat, I was told that the stores in Barcelona do not brew filter coffee in the evenings. I had to have an espresso. The barista said the next store, Pelayo, might have filter coffee, but their Columbia Shuttle was broken!!! A second shot of espresso, and I knew I was going to have to change my routine and try to frontload the visits towards early in the day to get filter coffee at more stores.

Headed out towards the hostel and passed something unusual, a young man crouched down, hand out, begging... with blonde hair and a relatively clean-cut appearance, albeit with a downtrodden look on his face. In all my travels, very few beggars looked like this kid, who looked like he could have been a frat boy. Most were dark-haired and dark-complected, and I was reminded of something I had heard, that some Spanish people, in some region of Spain maybe, actually have real blonde hair and blue eyes.

Contrast thie beggar with the ones I had seen a day earlier on the Champs-Elysees, all seemingly of Middle Eastern, Arab, or Turkish extraction, maybe Roma, wearing head scarves, and kneeling on the ground in the exact same position, head down, both hands cupped out. I wonder if they realized that by maintaining such a consistent apperance, they give off the appearance of being an organized group, a scam.

After a bit of walking I stopped to make sure I had not passed the street that led towards the hostel. Rather than opening my laptop I pulled out the map I had been given at the airport, that I had taken only so that I could avoid opening my laptop all the time. Well, the map had me totally confused. After asking a couple of people, a man finally helped me locate where I was, and I realized the map was not oriented northward. Why, why, why do people create maps not oriented towards the north? I would wonder if my bias towards the north is something American, but I have seen the same thing stateside, maps where up can be any direction other than north. Anyway, the man was helpful, but as he left, as I was complaining about the map, he commented, "lo debe haber hecho una mujer." I wondered if this was some type of typical Spanish chauvinism.

In the course of the few hours I had been in Catalunya, this whole Catalan thing was surprising me and throwing me off. Why??? How long has Spain been a nation? Why is there a whole nuther language that is so prevalent on the signs, maps, public transportation? Why can't people realize that separate languages create friction, ineffeciency, extra expense. Fuck pride, man, the world has enough problems, and eliminating language barriers would help solve at least a few of them.

Beggars are, of course, nothing new, but I did see something unusual, along Carrer Nou de la Rambla, a not-insignificant side street, leading away from La Rambla towards my hostel, a really grungy-looking trio, two males and a female, hunting through what appeared to be a pile of clothing next to two dumpsters.

Farther down I spotted a sign for Bagdad, a club offering live strip shows and sex shows. The sign under the door read "90 euros", and I wasn't sure if I was understanding it correctly. But the girl at the desk said that yes, that was the price of admission, 90 euros. Whoa. I was puzzled and tried to ask her why, but she clearly did not understand where I was coming from, having seen covers of no more than 20 euros around Europe, and no more than 25 dollars in America, with the exception of the O'Farrell Theater in San Francisco. I walked away still not understanding why anybody would pay that much money just to get in.

For all the grief they gave me, at least they had free wi-fi. And air-conditioning, which I could not remember having seen at any of the previous hotels I had patronized, even in hot places like Madrid and Puerto Rico. Later that night, howver, I would find the air conditioning more of an annoyance, because it was so cold. At that hour (4, maybe 5 AM) I did not want to turn on the light to figure out how to turn down, or turn off, the air. I ended up putting on my undershirt, then my long-sleeved shirt, and socks, and while I looked around for a blanket I think I heard the Australian in the bottom bunk ask me to stop moving. I think he might have said that twice during the night, but I'm not sure.

Anyway, I left the hostel right after setting up the sheets on my bed to search for grubbins. A minute after making a left onto Las Ramblas I spotted La Zarzuela, and I its name caught my eye because the word is playable in Scrabble, and one that I could have played, if I had known it (and found it) in a tournament game in the last year. The menu didn't thrill me, as I was in the mood for lentil soup, but I decided to go for the meat paella.

I was seated at a table for two right next to a couple, and I remembered having been in restaurants that seated like that before, but I couldn't remember how long it had been. Felt to cramped to pull out my laptop, so I made notes on paper instead (so low-tech), and perhaps I was a little caught up in my recollections of what I had seen thus far that night that when the paella came I did not even realize it was seafood, not beef. I saw the clams and the shrimp of course, but I thought a piece of meat I had found was chicken, and I assumed there would be beef in there somewhere. Never found it. The waiter gave me a lower price, but just barely, and after I tipped I realized I probably should not have.

A bar, I presume, in the vicinity of La Rambla or Placa Catalunya.

Along Rambla Catalunya I saw what appeared to be working girls, but I wasn't sure because they were sitting on motorcycles. I had a feeling, though, that the motorcycles were not theirs. Later, farther down along La Rambla, I saw women also sitting on motorcycles, and more obviously working. Even more curious was the fact that, when I walked back past the group I saw them being questions by police. I had never before seen working girls questioned by police in any European country. I was on the other side of the street by this time, and I could not overhear, so I've no idea what was going on. My guess--shakedown.

Along La Rambla I kept seeing young men holding out six-packs of bright red cans which I assumed were Coke. Later on down the side street leading to the hostel I got a better look at this cans, and I realized that it had been silly of me to think these guys were selling Cokes. Of course they weren't selling Cokes--they were selling a brand of beer that happened to have a can that had the bright-red color of Coke. Duh.

August 4, 2009

8:27, still feeling garflunkerdurglich, and I really wanted to go back to sleep. Had to force myself up though--I only had a day and a half left in Paris.

Pushing out further from the city center, and the stores were getting harder to reach. La Vache Noire was okay, but the two Belle Epine store were challenge and time-consuming. By the time I finished them, I was only at 5 for the day, with 8 to go. I was unsure how many more stores I'd get that day after Versailles, and I was glad I had booked my Barcelona flight for nearly 4:00 PM the next day. I'd need the time, especially if I wanted to see G.I. Joe.

With a little over a week left in my travels, it was time to finally buy that perfume for my mother, and at La Vache Noire I looked for a parfumerie. I asked the cashier who spoke the most English for a local brand, made in France, that I could not find in America. No Chanel, Yves-Saint-Laurent, or Lancome. Picked a brand with a name that looked interesting, Lolita Lemricka, and not because I like 'em young. I just like the color of the box and the typeface.

There you go, that's the only time a hot woman every talks to me, when she wants something. At the Javel RER station an extremely attractive young woman, possibly a 9 or 10, wanted me to less her pass through the gate with my ticket. As much as I would have liked to help her, beauty is not worth getting deported over. For all I know she was working undercover for the RATP police, to try and entrap strangers.

Meanwhile, besides being filthy (there's a a lot of grime), my jeans were in really bad shape.

rush rush rush

Busy Champs

Le Montclair Montmartre no free wi-fi, slow bah

unfriendly Oleg the Ukranian

August 3, 2009

8:34, plenty early to reach Disneyland before it got busy... except it was well past time to lock down my return itinerary. Slow, slow, slow wi-fi at the hostel, and 90 minutes later, after exploring myriad options, I had only managed to make one booking, Lisbon to Boston.

Wow, it was not at all evident from the Metro map, but Disneyland Paris is really far away. Took me nearly 90 minutes to arrive, by which time there were already quite a few people in the Disney Village.

On most of the trains to and from the Disney store and Le Vallee Village stores, persons, a young man in one case, and older man in another, went from seat to seat dropping cards, some in English, some in French, explaining some sob story about being a refugee or having two kids or some such and soliciting donations. The operation just screamed SCAM to me.

Sometimes there is a bright side to my tragedies. After Le Vallee Village I returned to the Bastille station, to reshoot Roquette and finally drink the coffee from Saint Antoine, the store that I had just missed on Friday night, and also back in January 2005, when I arrived just days before it was to open. Couldn't reshoot Roquette because some trucks were parked in front, and then around the corner a EuropCar van pulled in front of Saint Antoine just as I arrived. I went in for the coffee, checked some stuff online, and just as I was about to leave FedEx van pulled in front. Grrr...

I waited about 10 minutes before deciding the driver was an asshole and left to see if I could find some food and return for the photos. Got to the end of the street and decided to go off onto the side streets to see what I could find. I spotted a "hammam" (sauna) with massages on the menu, but it was just for woman. Spotted a salon offering massage, but it was closed on Monday. Spotted a kebab restaurant that might have had burgers, but it was also closed. And then, out of the blue, I happened to pick the side street where there was a Colombian restaurant!!!

Wasn't a great meal, though. Firstly, the cook had run out of green plantains and had to serve me maduros. Next, there was no bandeja paisa on the menu. I chose the chicharron with beans and rice instead, and although the latter were pretty good, and the beans even had plantain in them, the chicharron was way too tough and hard to cut and chew.

Interesting. I happened to be walking alongside the train, down in the Chemin-Vert station, as it slowed, and I noticed that the car doors opened before the train had stopped moving. I don't think I ever saw this in London or Germany.

Kept stumbling across beauty salons ("esthetique") that only catered to women, or did not offer massages for men, and the percentage seemed much higher than in England or Germany. This surprised me because I had this notion that the French were more liberal. It looked like I was not going to find a massage from a genuine Frenchwoman, so when I spotted a Chinese nail and beauty salon on the way to the Monge store, offering a 1/2 hour for 25 euros, I decided that was the best I was going to do. The massage turned out okay, but it ended up being one of my most unusual experiences.

The salon was extremely small, and in the front room their must have been at least three, maybe four, women receiving manicures and other treatments (I think I saw a chair for hair). The attendant led me to the next room, where there was another chair, for foot treatments. Behind a curtain was the massage table... no, several massage tables. Two, behind the first curtain, and two more behind another curtain. I didn't even notice at first, until I went to plug in my laptop and noticed that, oops, there was a massage in progress at the far table. I wondered what would happen when that massage ended, and some 30-40 minutes later I got my answer--both therapist and client had to pass right by my table to exit. But it gets better. As my massage was ending, another client entered and got on the table behind me--I could not have imagined that two massages would be conducted in the same space with no curtain to separate the clients. The tables were so close together, in fact, that when the other therapist was sitting on a stool working on her client's neck, my therapist did not have enough room to work on my chest from the back--she had to stand to the side.

Finally saw Up, known as La-Haut in French. Very important to pronounce it properly "la haut", and not "la haute", otherwise the cashier will giggle at you. By lucky coincidence had just opened in French, and it was as excellent as I expected it to be. Pixar hardly disappoints.

August 2, 2009


While photographing the Echelle store, a stream of interesting looking old cars passed by.

Museums in Paris are free on Sundays, and so of course they are extremely crowded. The line did not seem that long when I arrived around 9:30, but apparently there are several entrances, and in those short 30 minutes since the doors opened, floods of people managed to get in. It took me nearly 30 minutes to work my way to the one painting that interested me, La Joconde. Other than that one, I had little interest in pre-20th century artwork.

The Mona Lisa room was crazy. Madness, I tell you. Visitors packed as closely as possible, some to take a closer look, like me, but many to photograph the painting or have themselves photographed in front. Believe you me, perhaps in the same way the most people do not understand why I would photograph a Starbucks, I do not understand why they would want to photograph the Mona Lisa. You can get a better photo anywhere, and what is the significance of a photo of yourself in front of the famous painting. I can't see it.

Part of the reason was the camera, and my difficulty in getting the photos I wanted (and the knowledge that I need to try to reshoot them eventually), but it was probably also the length of time that I had been traveling. I felt tired and homesick, and I kept considering trying to return to America instead of going to Spain. Had there been no worry that some of the Starbucks in Spain might close, I would have returned in a heartbeat.

Also there was the issue of realsex, which I had not had in nearly three months, and which probably wasn't going to happen in Europe. But in America, I know where to go.

Say what what what??? Noticed that a sign outside Starbucks advertised breakfasts, using the line "au petit-dejeuner decouvrez nos breakfasts". Since when did the French start using the word "breakfast"?

Tried something different, a crepe with egg, cheese and ham instead of my usual nutella. Not bad, but I think I'll stick with nutella. The crepe just isn't enough like a pancake to feel "right" with the egg, ham, and cheese.

WTF, I asked myself, after neither the man at the information desk, nor a pair of security guards, knew where the Starbucks inside the Gare Montparnasse was. I was about to walk back to the Montparnasse store to ask if the store even existed when I happened to pass by a young man, out for a smoke, with the Starbucks logo on his keycard "chain-thingie" (I've never known what it's called, but its like a shoelace, but thicker, and used to hold identification--I've worn them at many jobs). He directed me downstairs, and after speaking to the supervisor I learned the store had opened just the past Tuesday. That piece of info seemed to explain the discrepancy between the count of 48 Paris-area stores that I had been given and the 49 that I had in my database.

In my various trips to France, I can't say I really had a sense that the French are as rude as their reputation, but the supervisor at Rue Saint Dominique seemed to want to make up for all my previous experiences. After walking nearly an hour to reach that store (I was in no hurry, felt no need for the Metro), I did not even get to give my spiel because the barista at the counter, when I asked to speak to the supervisor, immediately asked "what for" in a rude and hostile tone. Why even bother dealing with his shit, I though, and immediately pulled out cash. But I couldn't even pay for the short coffee in the sample cup without taking shit, as he looked at me like I was crazy and said "that's not enough." I actually needed a few drops more, but I just let it go for the moment and said "that's all I need" and then asked when the store opened. "Two years ago," he said, and I asked "2007?", as I always do, to confirm, because baristas occasionally estimate incorrectly and then catch themselves when I confirm the actual year. His response was impatient, "yes, two years ago! About that."

I let the customer behind me go first, to see if that would change the vibe of our interaction. After she ordered, I stood by the condiment bar and waited for the customer to move away from the counter, and the supervisor's eyes glared at me as I did so. I hoped he would go into the back so I could ask the other barista for more coffee, but he remained, and I had no choice but to ask and receive the expected glare of death as he took my cup. He overfilled it, of course, and returned it with the comment "I don't want to burn my fingers." I actually needed to buy an wi-fi card so I could finally book my flight to Barcelona, but I did not want to deal with that supervisor anymore, so I left and did it later.

Actually, come to think of it, neither the supervisor nor the partner who might have been the manager at the Gare Montparnasse store were exactly friendly to me. All in all, I'd have to say that after 21 stores I wasn't overly thrilled with the level of friendliness of the French baristas.

Not far from that store was the Museum of Modern Art (Musee d'Arte Moderne de la Ville de Paris), much more my style than the Louvre. Several Picassos, one of my favs, as well as cool works by other painters from that period. Also a small section of photographs, which I like for obvious reasons. Unfortunately, only the permanent display was free, and it was pretty small. Took me just 30 minutes to see it all, and for that I had to deal with grief because, unlike at the Louvre, security wanted large backpacks checked. I made no headway in convincing the head security guy to let me through, and I had to end up pulling out my camera, laptop, cards, and cash to carry with me. Assholes. But they weren't nearly as much assholes as Chase...


At Victor Hugo I killed time until I needed to leave for my film by working on my itinerary. I finally booked Barcelona and Madrid, and I decided that that was good enough. Valencia and Sevilla were just going to have to wait. It was risky to leave those stores unvisiting, but I just wanted to go back home.

Whatever Works, better than the reviews let me to think.

Just didn't feel like a 3-mile walk, so I sprang for the Metro ticket and saved myself an hour, which I was able to devote to sleep. Good think, too, because that sleep was disturbed by these annoying Australians who took forever to pack up their things to leave. Zipping, unzipping, zipping, unzipping, moving about, some words--they should have done all that the night before!!!

August 1, 2009

Ooh, actual orange juice for breakfast. Not fresh, of cours,e and not great tasting, but orange juice nonetheless. And, being in France, baguettes of course.

Internet still slow--is it all of France?

Okay, no matter what anybody thinks about my project, that it's a waste of time or whatever, one thing is undeniable. Walking the streets of Paris is just a cool experience. Period.

Walked from St. Christopher's to Le Village where I had a room for Saturday night, to check in, and, more importantly, to make sure they had not cancelled my reservation. Within 30-60 minutes of making the reservation I had received an annoying e-mail about needing my first name to process the reservation. I replied saying that "Winter" was what they would find on my passport, but I never heard back.

After checking in, I walked to the closest Starbucks, Place Blanche. Passed by a neighborhood or area called Pigalle that was packed with sex shops and cinemas, many of which were open at that early hour. I think I saw more on that street than anywhere else in Europe except Soho in London, which is a larger area, and Repeerbahn in Hamburg.

The actual Moulin Rogue! If the film had not had so much singing, I would have watched the rest of it.

PANCAKE!!! OMG, THEY HAVE PANCAKES AT THE STARBUCKS IN PARIS!!! Being a pancake fiend, I had to try them. Of course I was not expecting much, but they were not bad. Not good by any standards, but given that they were pre-made, not bad either. If I were really hungry for pancakes and had no other option, I would try them again.

The fresh-squeeze orange juice, though--always excellent from French, Spanish, Greek, and Mexican Starbucks. Expensive, of course, but when something tastes that good I'm not so inclined to complain about the price.

In less than one day of walking around I noticed something interesting, that the are a lot more local films, at least in Paris, than in the United Kingdom or Germany. In those countries the overwhelming preponderance of films, at least in theaters that I saw (perhaps not smaller, out of the way places) were American.

Aha! I suspected as much, and when I asked, a barista confirmed that in France, as in Germany, shopping centers are not open on Sunday.

Six stores in less than four hours, either the first, or one of the few, times I had accomplished that during that particular trip, and I had two more stores just minutes away.

Wow, I totally smelled that coming. I finally visited Capucines, my 20th store in France, a store that had been mentioned by several baristas as being particularly beautiful. They understated. The store was spectacular. Because of this, and the fact that it was in a high-volume tourist area, I had a strong suspicion that the manager would not be receptive to my project. Oh, he gave me the sample all right, but from the look on his face it seemed that either he did not believe me or he thought I was a crazy person. When I asked him to fill the cup, he smirked condescendingly. In the spirit of full disclosure, I must state that his reaction and tone could have had everything to do with how atrocious my French was.

Dang, since I arrived in Lyon, the wi-fi's meter of how much time I had used seemed to be stuck at 59, and I was wondering/hoping it would go on indefinitely. But I finally noticed it at 11 minutes and had to go back to severely limiting use and avoiding use unless I found a free network. Here Paris, they were easier to find than Germany or Switzerland.

Ach! I should have bought some fruit from all those stands I saw in the morning, while walking from one hostel to the other. Besides that oversight, I went the wrong way after Saint Philippe du Roule, ending up in the touristy areas instead of farther away from the city where prices would be cheaper. I finally gave up and went for pasta from PastaPaPa on Boulevard Montmarte.

Like I said, there are some things I don't mind paying extra for because they are so good, but Chapstick is not one of them. Mine finally ran out (should have brough a spare, or maybe that was the spare), and after looking around on and off all day, I finally went into a convenience mart and found some off brand, two for 3.70. I passed. At the pharmacy down the street they actually had Chapstick brand... at the whopping price of 4.20!!! That's about six times the price in America!!! I asked the pharmacist why, but of course she did not have a clue. I asked for a different brand, I could see the irritation on her face when she fished one out and scanned it. Well, fuck y'all too, for not having prices affixed to the tubes. What the fuck are customers supposed to do??? Out of patience and energy for this, I just bent over and bought the 2.95 one.

Missed the street that led to the next store, and by the time I decided to look at my map I was at Rue Saint-Denis, a street that googling, back in 2005, had revealed to be one of the places where prostitutes work. I had briefly walked up and down in 2005 and seen nothing interesting, but that was at night, and I did not expect to see any women out in the middle of the day. Wrong. There were plenty, and I was shocked... by the fact that all of them were either older, overweight, both, or just generally unattractive. I had never seen so many unattractive prostitutes in my life, and I wondered why men would even come to this street.

As several times before, the women of African origin or descent called out to me. This was a common occurrence, and I could only guess that because I have some African blood, and features, these women figure I'd be more likely to throw business their way. Fat chance of that. Besides my preference for light-skinned women (perhaps due to the influence of Madison Avenue and the media, although I do wonder if there is possible that humans have a built-in preference for lighter skin), the prevalence of HIV infection in African guarantees that I wouldn't touch a woman who appeared to come from their with a ten-foot pole, or at least a cheap, portable, readily-available instant HIV test.

After three lukewarm reactions out of 10 stores, I decided that, as much I as I wanted to keep practicing French, I'd better switch to English. Ironically enough, the supervisor at that store did not speak English, so I switched back.

Cool. The other barista, who had called the supervisor for me, was half-English, I was particularly proud of myself for having come very close to identifying his accent. I said Liverpool. The correct answer--Manchester.

Stopped at Forum des Halles for a reshoot (and actually managed one despite the people), and I noticed a big difference from the British shopping centers. There was security all right, but three of them were just standing next to a wall chatting, barely paying attention. In England they would almost certainly have been walking around with serious looks on their faces or standing on balconies observing the people.

I am sooooo weak. Despite having just had lunch less than two hours earlier, the sight of waffles from the Waffle Factory at Forum des Halles lured me in, and I could not help but try one to see if I was anything like the delicious French waffles served at the cafeteria when I was at the university, and discovered just once more, at a shop in Canary Wharf that has long since closed.

Perhaps switching to English was not the magic formula, because at the twelfth store of the day the supervisor gave me the most scornful look of the day when I asked for a sample. I did not feel like dealing with her disdain a second time, so when the other barista handed me a not-quite-full sample cup, I thought it well worth the 2 euros to avoid a repeat exposure to the supervisor's evil eye. But, as is common, even this approach had its difficulty, because when I told the other barista not to get the short up, but to "remplir" the sample cup, she protested and said it was already full. I switched to English and said "can you fill it", and when she handed it back to me and asked "is this what you want", there was clear hostility in her voice. Having gotten on the bad side of two baristas, I wondered how I would find out the opening date for the store.

I packed up my things and, having to wait for the bathroom, I went to the counter just as the supervisor went into the other room. I asked the barista at the counter when the store opened, but she did not no, and, to my chagrin, asked the other barista, who had been behind the bar. She looked out from behind the espresso machine and, a bit disdainfully said, "about four years." Grrr... I had really been hoping to avoid having her look or speak to me again.

On a side street cutting across from Sebastopol to Rue des Archives, a garden up on a wall.

As I photographed the next store, I noticed that the bar to my right, Cox, happened to have an inordinate number of men crowding the patio and sidewalk. A few minutes later, as I was about to walk into the Starbucks, a group of Australians walked by, looking back at the men, grinning, and looking surprised. One of them said something like "wow", I think. I'm guessing they had never before seen so many gay men in one place, or at least French gay men in one place.

And sometimes I'm just trying to be polite, and I get the disdain. Inside the store, the only available outlet happened to be next to some seats where a pair of young women were sitting. I plugged in my laptop and went to the counter to ask for the sample coffee. I returned to my bag and sat on this cushion-seat-thingie. As I did so, I caught the attention of the young woman (perhaps a girl, actually) closest to me, and just to be polite I said hello. She gave me a disdainful look and turned away.

Taking of Pelham 1-2-3, about as entertaining as I expected.

More evidence that this tour was extremely timely and important. Of course, for every article like this I've found, there is information I don't have about other countries with stores closing, and unless I have that information in the next two weeks, before I return to America, I cannot burn all my financial resources blindly trying to guess at which country will be next.

Walked back to the hostel, detouring slightly along Boulevard de Clichy, that Pigalle area, to see if any of the strip clubs looked reasonable. Nope. Most had entry fees of 20 euros, a price I would not even think about paying. There was no lack of trying, though, on the part of the hosts and hostesses, to get me in. Every time I got close enough to look for a price list I was accosted, and sometimes even as I walked by. Compared to Reeperbahn in Hamburg, these hosts were many times more aggressive.


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