sounds of the space age

Thursday, July 19, 2007

going to boston/ letter to United Airlines

During my travels from Boston to Charlottesville yesterday, a delay forced me to take a flight that was scheduled to have left earlier than the one I was originally booked on, but which was delayed, in order to make my connection at Dulles into Charlottesville. Somehow, during this connection, my baggage apparently failed to make it onto my flight into Charlottesville. This is understandable to a certain extent. Upon my arrival and subsequent discovery of the mix-up, the man at the counter (apparently the only United/ Colgen Air employee in the building, as he was also the thrower who reported to me that there was no more baggage to arrive) did an admirable job of assuring me that he was aware of the location of my bag (Dulles, unsurprisingly) and that it would be placed on the first flight into Charlottesville the following morning. He said that it would be delivered to me directly. Though many items critical to my daily life were within the bag, I was unconcerned because I knew that United has early flights into CHO and that I would probably have my bag by late afternoon. This was not the case. Furthermore, no United representative has contacted me to let me know what the status of the search is. When I try to be proactive (a burden that I do not believe rests on the customer whose bag has been lost), I am told to contact the Bag Track telephone number (800-221-6903). Upon calling this number, I was made furious by the fact that, first, it is a recorded voice. Machines are, by default, less capable of handling these sorts of problems than humans. I spoke all manner of information into the phone, as clearly and slowly as I could manage considering my evaporating patience, and had to redial four times in order to arrive at the fact that there was apparently no option for speaking to a person who might be able to clarify such issues as how I might be reimbursed for things that I am being forced to purchase in order to continue with my life without my belongings. If indeed such a policy does exist (and I assume it does since there is reference to it on United's website, I would like to know how I might take advantage of it. Perhaps a CS Representative could answer my questions regarding when a bag is considered lost permanently and how, in that case, a reimbursement is arranged. Instead, I spoke to an automaton who constantly apologized for his faults, but was unable to correct them. If this is the sort of customer service that I have to look forward to from United, then perhaps its time I look for another airline to give my allegiance to. I have always enjoyed flying United and its treatment of loyal customers, but this sort of communication barrier is unacceptable. On the plane, I read about United's recent hire of a new head of Customer Relations. If I may be so bold, I would suggest that this issue be directed to her, if not in full detail, at least in so much as this theme is concerned. Baggage is lost. Passengers are made unhappy. These things are unavaidable in such a competitive industry. What makes people more furious than anything, however, is a slow, one-way flow of communication that must be mitigated by machines. In short, I would like to know where my bag is. The details are above. I would like to know how to go about being reimbursed for the mounting pile of junk I'm buying to replace the perfectly good things that have been lost in my bag. But mostly, I would like to hear from a human who maybe doesn't apologize all the time like that robot-man, but who can at least understand my (rather clear, I think) voice. To whomever has the unpleasant duty of responding to these messages, I realize this is not your fault. If, by some chance company protocol sees fit to have you call me, know that I will not attack you directly, but only if I deem things to be going exceptionally poorly. I come in peace, or whatever. Otherwise, I wish you a pleasant day (Unless you are a letter-answering robot, in which case I hope you fry a transistor and must be replaced by a person). Thanks.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Vacation Photos

Luxembourg. After a day trip to Trier (or Treves if French suits you) we went to some restaurant. It could have been any restaurant and I don’t care for the specifics but it had something to do with French food. We stopped into a bar for a nightcap. Danny’s always suggesting nightcaps. He often makes suggestions about how many drinks will be had too but he always suggests one drink and I never have fewer that three. I had four. On the way home he pulls up to Thorsten’s bar for a second nightcap. Thorsten had introduced us to the drink which was to remain nameless until we decided to call it the “Thorsten”. Yeah, clever, I should get a medal. A Thorsten is the perfect beverage for Luxebourg, sandwiched as it is between Germany and France. It’s a pretty even mix of Pernod and Jagermeister. It seems disgusting but is really pretty ok. Especially when its served to you by a very German looking man who is down a few teeth and who’s English seems limited to, well, limited. Thorsten’s bar is pretty much a German biker bar which is damn entertaining. Despite the fact that we were strangers, Thorsten poured me at least two Thorstens on the house when all I ordered was a Piconbeir. If you’re keeping track, I am drunk at this point in the story. All I know is that pictures have surfaced of me on a motorcycle inside the bar. I don’t remember posing for them. At around two we left because Jesse was taping an interview the next day at like eight and I was supposed to go see a Patton memorial in Ettelbruck.

I woke up hella-drunk. Danny dropped me into the center of town and says something about a memorial being in the general direction indicated by a wave of the hand and he drove off saying something about meeting him “later” at “a place that I could neither remember nor pronounce”. My German is not good. I was drunk. I lit out for wherever it was that I was supposed to be going and was having a reasonably good time trying not to stagger (failed) while walking. Never mind that I had no idea where I was, had little money, no communication device and no idea where Danny even lived or where Jesse was. Fuck it, as they say. So I stumble upon this memorial with a tank parked beside it. I shoot a few slides of the tank and climb on it some and decide to read the plaque. As near as I can remember (the slides aren’t processed), the plaque said “On such and such date in the 90’s, we renew our gratitude to the brave American soldiers who sacrificed their lives to give us back our freedom”. I’m pretty sure it was the booze that caused it, but I started crying. I mean, fucking sobbing. I could taste my tears. They were salty. This is pretty strange because I can only remember crying like three times in my life, and certainly no time recently. So here I am crying like a son of a bitch looking at this plaque in a little park in Luxembourg where hundreds of men lost their lives 60 years ago. About then I noticed the gardener watering the flower quite near me who was trying not to stare. Ass. As I sort of stumbled away, still crying some, I thought about what it was that had gotten to me (besides dubious european liqueurs). All I could figure was that I wasn’t crying for the men who died, but for the tragedy of a nation being occupied. I was crying because once, we (America et. al) sent our young men to die for something that was worth sending men to die for. In those days, freedom really was worth a damn, and we had a pretty good idea of what it was like to be without it. As I wandered around Ettelbruck, still drunk and with salt all over my damned face like two year old, I looked at all the people on the street. What do they think of us now? Will they renew their gratitude again? Will there ever be memorials like that in Baghdad?

I ran into Danny and he gave me some kind of roll with pate inside and some kind of wine grape jelly. It tasted good.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

This one is simple

If one more fucking person says, or puts on their facebook/myspace profile "so it goes" in response the death of Kurt Vonnegut I'm gonna croak. Yes, I'm admit that I thought it. Yes, I thought it was kind of funny when I thought it. I maybe even cracked a smile at it. You know what I didn't do? I didn't call anyone to tell them of my cleverness or post it anywhere. You know why? Because EVERYONE who has ever read a book in the world thought the same thing, thus it must not be that clever. Thank You. That is all.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Oaxaca Oct. 31-Nov. 2

So once again I ended up in a heated discussion of tacos, and Mexican food in general, last night at the C&O. Millington, Parisi, Easton, Spencer and self would certainly have been ejected from any sensible French-style bistro for our tone if not for the fact that Farrell was tending the bar. At least three other parties have elicited this same response from me by referencing opinions I made public in this very forum recently. My fervor was so great last night that I declared that I am going on taco tour in Oaxaca for Dia De Los Muertos this year. Understand this: There is no better holiday on earth than Dia De Los Muertos (my own holiday "Happy Fucking It's Warm Day" is TIED with Dia [I'm sure you'll hear all about HFIWD when the spring comes on though if winter keeps up like this is might be next week][HFIWD is never scheduled. It depends on my whim, you see] but is not by any means SURPASSED by Dia). They make skulls out of sugar for Christ's sake! They hang around in graveyards for a holiday that, despite being a dia, is three days long! There is no better city for Los Muertos than Oaxaca, and incidentally, as if to prove the divine providence involved, Oaxaca is a great city for tacos. Never mind that this is set to occur in the midst of a destroyer of a semester. This is exactly the same way our trip to Morocco was conceived. Over whiskey at the CANDO. Rick Easton is on board even though he is apparently destined to die in Mexico (he felt a lot better about the whole thing when I explained that just because he's destined to die in Mexico doesn't mean it will be THIS time). That bastard has proven he won't back down. So who else is on board? Let's go lick sugar skulls and eat tacos and hang around the graveyards of Mexico! The only thing I have yet to do is buy the ticket and learn something in Spanish other than "I need three tacos al pastor please." Preferably something useful like "where is the store that will sell me tacos al pastor?""or sugar skulls"

Friday, January 05, 2007

Oh Canada...

When Jesse Dukes told me that he wanted to go to Quebec City for the New Year holiday, I envisioned sort of a Mardi gras style event taking place in a French style city. Call it ignorance, but I assumed that all Francophones on the North American continent celebrated by getting shit-hammered and throwing beads at each other and that this celebration would be pretty much the same on New Years as Mardi Gras (yes I realize that this seems like a pretty crazy leap but tell me that when you hear "celebration" and "French" you don't think of crazy bead throwing).

Thus we took out of here and met up with our old friend Chris who was in New York City being a ne'er do well and doing gobs of blow. Chris is a really good dude who is a great chef, triathlete, and all around top dude. After some failed attempts to find housing, we met some girls who allowed us to stay at their place. The next day Jesse and I walked from their apartment on 125th St. down to the Brooklyn Bridge and across. We walked for about six hours straight. We then met our friend Zeke who is a great guitar player and also a pretty great chef it seems.
The next day we headed for Portland Maine. Portland is one of my favorite cities because of the mix of proximity to mountains, good urban style and maritime tradition. Doesn’t hurt that the rent is cheap. It’s too bad that it’s so cold but I guess that’s what keeps the creeps at bay. Anyway a day and a night and off to Ville de Quebec.

Quebec was a pretty cool city overall. Very old. Very French. The restaurants were good. We asked the receptionist in our hotel where a good place to experience New Years would be. On our way there we decided to have dinner. Since Quebec is a French city, we went to a French restaurant. We weren’t worried about the time since it was 930. So two hours into the meal we still haven’t finished the dessert or coffee courses. As they passed out the noise makers we were out the door and looking for a bar to get defaced in. Quickly. So we hustle on over to the promising part of town but things look sort of not that hopping. Jesse described it as being about as crowded as a not too busy Wednesday night in Portland’s old port. Maybe you’ve never been there but you probably get the idea. We could not find a fucking decent looking bar anywhere. We counted down the new year en Franςais. On the sidewalk. And by “counted down en Franςais” I really mean glanced at my watch and realized it had been 2007 for about 45 seconds. We went in the only place that seemed alive. It appeared to be a private party for an accounting firm. It probably wasn’t but that’s what it looked like. We were dressed like we were about to climb mountains (which was later to come) but not in that clean Patagonia catalog way, more in the train bum with a bottle of Thunderbird in his pocket way and Jesse was carrying his radio gear (he makes documentaries for public radio). I had just shaved with a shitty throw away razor and lather from holiday Inn complimentary soap after not shaving in over a week. I was probably still bleeding out of my face. Short version: we were dressed more for Halloween in the ghetto than New Years with Francophone accountants. We managed to get a drink and walked around the place (which was a shit hole aside from the koi swimming in the floor). When we returned to where we left our things, about 8 Quebecois were standing around Jesse’s microphone (which was like 18 inches long) singing to the shitty 80’s tune they were playing in the place. He reclaimed him mic, turned it on and interviewed one of the women who insisted that Jesse was in fact not American but Canadian and from Toronto (she could tell by his accent). This was really the only interesting thing that happened that night. On the way back to the hotel we saw a guy being taken into custody by the fuzz. He was so drunk he couldn’t stand. Jesse posited that he had, in fact, managed to have our shares of the fun for the evening. Sadly we managed to have his share of the illness the next morning. Jesse and I were both nauseous as a motherfucker as we pulled out of Quebec. If someone other than me had been taking photos they could have gotten a fantastic photo of me leaning on the hood of the car trying not to empty my guts while scraping the quarter inch of solid ice that had accumulated on the car away. Fuck.

The trip was quickly spared as we went back to the comforting confines of Portland. We climbed Old Speck. It’s a reasonably tall mountain (by eastern standards) on the AT with a fire tower on top. It was snowy as a motherfucker and about eight miles round trip. The top looked like a fucking alien planet because of the strong wind encasing everything in snow. All the trees had about five inches of sideways snow hanging from them. You really should see the pictures I took. The tower was in similar condition, which made climbing it rather treacherous but the view from the top was worth it. We stood up there in the wind and cold and snow and were pleased with the world and with ourselves. Jesse ate a frozen snickers bar and we retreated under the light of a bright moon and a setting sun reflected off snow and occasional clouds. It was some of the most beautiful light I’ve seen. We snow shoed down in the dark and were happy to relax. My legs hurt like two motherfuckers. It felt real nice.

As I was getting on the plane back home I thought about the people I know that I don’t see often enough. I miss Maine sometimes and one day I reckon I’ll go back. Leading trips in those mountains were some of the best times I’ve had. As for today, I’m happy to be back at my home in Virginia where it’s unseasonably warm and the bars are filled with good people that I know.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

I'll smile when someone in Charlottesville makes a decent taco

Why the fucking hell can't anyone in this town make a good taco? I'm serious. My psychological wellbeing depends on me eating mexican food and it really fucks me when I can only eat burritos. I have nothing against atomic burrito. Though I've had better, it sure as hell wasn't in this state or even on this side of the Missi'p (Don't you even fucking MENTION chipotle or Qdoba or any of those other shit-slinging chain horse-shitteries. Guadalajara, Amigo's, and all those other "hot plate" Mexican joints are not good and don't even count. That shit is not even what I’m talking about. And the biggest offender of all, Baja Bean with the photos of Mexico on the wall to prove that the owner went there and did research to figure out how to make Baja-style food, makes me sick, not only in product, but in principle. Maybe you went to Baja but going to Baja did not put a stop to your ineptitude) (YES you may have seen me eat in one of more of these establishments. YES I eat at them all at one time or another. You must understand how badly I NEED Mexican food. To me these shitty places are like drinking water from a rusty canteen- it tastes like hell but when you've been crawling thirsty through the desert you don't complain about the aftertaste). The problem is that between the burritos I eat at atomic and the burritos I eat in my home, I end up eating burritos about 1.5 meals a day (on average). I NEED A FUCKING TACO. I heard good things about this place called Aqui es Mexico down by the C'ville Market. I went there the other day and despite the name which, if my Spanish serves me translates to "here is Mexico" or suchlike, the place is run by a bunch of Salvadorans. Now, I have nothing against Salvadorans or their fine cuisine. Papusas and yucca are all fine with me. The only problem is that, as I believe I mentioned earlier, I NEED A FUCKING TACO. To my relief, they did have plenty of Mexican stuff on the menu, including tacos. I was also relieved to see that they served tacos con lingua-beef tongue tacos (if even one of you fluent-in-Spanish sons-of-a-bitches tells me I spelled this shit wrong I will curse. I know French was a poor choice of languages. crucify me.). Now, I’m pretty disinterested in eating tongue tacos in general, but tongue tacos are a good sign. They indicate that the restaurant has a predominantly Mexican clientele, which means that there are a few things you will NOT have to put up with. The first of these is the ubiquitous crunchy taco shell. I don't know where they got the idea for this but the idea sucks. Tacos come on two soft corn tortillas. Not crunchy and not those white flour things. They should be small. Like 5 inches in diameter. Second, They should have three ingredients: some kind of meat, cilantro and onion. There should be lime on the side. There should not be lettuce. There should not be tomato. There sure as hell should not be cheese. The existence of the tongue taco is a signifier that the establishment understands these things. I'm not sure anyone really orders these tongue tacos at all (I'm lying. They do.). I think it's just easier than putting a sign on the table that says "hey Mexican people! Fear not! This isn't one of those goddamned fake Mexican places that gringos seem to adore. We understand that tacos don’t crunch." Anyway, I ordered up a couple carnitas tacos. Though the presentation was spot on, the tacos were not as good as they could have been. I mean they were the best I’ve had in Charlottesville by a long shot but if I had been given these tacos in Santa Cruz I would have thrown them away (I’m obviously lying. I have never thrown away a taco). The Salvadoran fare was pretty good though.
Hey all you Charlottesville entrepreneurs! somebody buy a damned roach coach and park that shit on the downtown mall so I can get good tacos on my way home from work! I mean there's one on every block in fucking California; you'd think a metropolitan center like Charlottesville could get one! I mean we have a crepe store AND a fondue store for Jesus' sake! These things are what's wrong with Charlottesville. Tacos have the potential to be what's right.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

where is this all going?

At a certain point birthdays stop being fun. At a certain point they are the sort of thing you run away from. For this one i ran to Morocco. The truth of the matter is that it pretty much worked. As it turns out, if you confuse yourself sufficiently, you don't have time for self pity. I was sitting at a cafe in this gorge so deep that one could just see a slice of sky through the overhanging rocks. The sky was filled with way more stars than i've ever seen. We had driven through some crazy winding mountain roads into the desert where camels were wandering in the street and i was tired. Driving in Morocco is trying. Our new friend Idriss had been blasting the same tape in Arabic all day at maximum volume. He was in the act of drinking up all the beer we had paid higher than US prices for. The Koran was locked safely in the glovebox. I think it was Mike who mentioned that it was my birthday. So it was. I opened a beer and drank some tea. It was quiet and still.

The next day we drove to the real Sahara. The Sahara with dunes. We spent the night around a fire with our camels regurgitating near by. Idriss and Rick whipped up a camel tagine which was good, if heavy on the olive oil. I went with a Touareg named Said to gather firewood. riding the camel through the dark desert with bare feet was calming. The desert was so calm and quiet. You could see the galaxy overhead. I talked quietly with Said in french about how nice things were. I was surprised that i was able to convey how i felt to him. It was a pretty simple feeling i guess. Later we ran to the top of some dunes and collapsed, exhausted on their peak. We could see towns in Algeria from where we were sitting. I fell asleep with the stars revolving around my head. In the morning I climbed the tallest dune around which was as high as a lot of mountains. It felt good.

I had to drive all day back to Marrakech which was tiring. I hadn't known from the onset that i was the only one who could drive the car so it was a little annoying but driving in Morocco is pretty rewarding. I'm sure our Fiat Pallio had never had it's tiny engine run so hard before. I would love to have listened to it sing but, alas, more shitty Arabic pop on repeat, maximum volume. When we got back to Marrakech i got sick. After two days i was pretty dehydrated and was starting to worry about my well-being. i wasnt drinking water and i wasn't eating food. In the midst of all this, however, Mike and Rick took me to the most incredible restaurant ever. It was in a 15th century palace, the floors covered in rose petals, walls covered in beautiful mosaic. We were dressed like vagrants. The food was amazing and though the bill came to about fifty dollars each, it was worth it. It would have been three times as much in the US. Unfortunately my stomach hurt a lot and i was torn between the feeling of absolute decadence and the feeling that i might die if i didnt hold onto some food or water soon. The next morning Rick got me some Antibiotics. Things got better after that. The feeling that my body was betraying me was bothersome. I've always been tolerant of dangerous food. Though i was still having a wonderful time, a shadow was cast.

After a couple days of tying up loose ends in Marrakech and buying things in the markets, we went to London. At a bar that night this girl, who may have been young enough not to have moved out of her parents house, approached me and after inquiring about a cigarette, asked if i was american. i told her i was and she followed with "I hate Americans." i said something along the lines of "well that's unfortunate." To which she responded "kiss me." she didn't wait for a response and went for it. I stopped her with the only thing i could think of which was "You don't want to make out with me! You don't know me! You don't know where i've been! I've been in the DESERT!" Rick seemed to think this was just about the funniest thing i could have said under the circumstances. Though i was mostly disinterested in making out with this girl of dubious vintage (despite mike burlin's encouragement) in a place that was pretty foreign to me (probably more foreign than Marrakech in ways)( I mean christ, i ordered a jack on the rocks (they didn't have any bourbon) and the bartender loooked at me like i was crazy. i eventually had to tell him how to make it and he still managed to fuck it up. I was like "it's not hard. you put ice in the glass then you pour in the whiskey! he filled the glass with ice and poured a shot over it. i guess this is what i get for going to these sort of strange countries.), it was flattering to me that a girl would pick me out of this crowded bar to come hit on. it really sort of lifted my spirits. this lasted until roughly the time she tried to give me her email address and number but was too drunk to write them legibly even after three tries and 15 minutes. i'm getting better at laughing at myself. i was already pretty good at laughing at others.

Speaking of which, if you ever want to laugh, go on a long plane ride with rick easton. watch as the tobacco withdrawal and hatred of flying turn him into a bomb with a short fuse. After the flight, watch as he meets the one thing between him and a cigarette- Customs. watch as he patiently explains why his bag is filled with half a dozen keys of "herbs" he uses for "cooking" swimming an a soup of preserved lemons, olive oil and broken glass. he really did pull it together surprisingly well.

on coming back home i have had some trouble adjusting. things just seem too slow. i had trouble getting back into school and was hit with the end of what has been a disappointing and difficult semester. i'd like to think the next one will be better. i have no reason to believe this.
i'm really happy about christmas. i'm not usually into it but this year i really look forward to seeing my parents and sister. it will be nice to be around people who don't expect anything from me and for whom i don't feel like i need to be impressive.dont get me wrong, i like all my friends, i just feel like i spend too much time trying. it will be nice to wake up and be able to do anything i want. it will be nice to sleep. i need some sleep.