Archive for June, 2008

There and back again – The Epic Adventure (Part 2)

As planned we were on the road by 8. However we were surprised to discover upon getting into the car, that the GPS did not have a location for LAX international airport. After some minor pissing around we found Airport Boulevard on the map, which we reasoned was highly likely to contain the airport. So we got on the freeway and started carefully following all stated directions. After about 15 minutes of a complete absence of signs to the airport we realised we could not be going the right direction, at least partly because we would have been there by now. At this juncture PhD boy had the ingenious idea to set the GPS to the Hertz return point at LAX, which had the GPS immediately send us in the opposite direction than the one we had been driving in.

Not only have we not gone to the right way, we now have to get all the way back from having gone the wrong way. So at 8.20, we are farther from our destination than where we started, and PhD boy is beginning to get pretty anxious, as being the driver he has somehow internally assumed responsibility for the screw-up. At this point I am still fairly calm, possibly because the “shit, will we get to the airport on time??” feeling is such a commonplace one by now that I can’t be bothered fully embracing it, or maybe just because when someone else is panicking I always feel like that part is being handled and so I don’t need to do it.

I admit that I did notice PhD boy was speeding. Or rather, as we were on a freeway and seemed to be going substantially faster than the other cars, I assumed this was what he was doing. And we were pretty late. So while I wouldn’t have asked him to do it I certainly didn’t ask him to slow down. What I did not know was how fast he was actually going, because one of the side effects of not being a driver is not really being aware of distances and speeds in the same way, as you are merely a passive observer. So when there were suddenly some pretty loud sirens I was not entirely mentally prepared. That’s right kids, we were getting pulled over by the cops. We had to drive off the freeway onto a side road, at which point PhD boy has gone from anxious to pretty distressed, as he is not exactly used to being pulled over, and is in a foreign country, in a rental car, and we are already very late. So naturally the cop looks in, combines obvious nervousness with speeding, and concludes that we are pissed drunk. It takes a good 10 minutes to convince him that this is not the case, after which he tells us to sit tight for a minute, gets in his car, waves, and drives off. After sitting there for a minute or two confounded by the conflicting actions of telling us to stay and then driving away, we concluded that we just had to go, and got back on the move.

Some more frantic (but below the speed limit) driving finally gets us to LAX which is, surprise surprise, on Airport Boulevard. It’s just that Airport Boulevard happens to be 10 miles long, and our beloved GPS was sending us to the wrong end. I spotted a Virgin sign for Terminal 2, and we pulled up there at about 8.50. There was a reasonable chance that I was fucked at this point, but after bidding a brief farewell to PhD boy I grabbed my stuff and ran into the terminal. To discover that in fact, I should have been in terminal 6 for Virgin America, this was Virgin Atlantic. I briefly contemplated calling the boy and asking him to drive back, but dismissed this as unproductive, and went looking for a way to terminal 6.

Apparently no-one ever does such a thing as walk anywhere in LA, so the only way anyone could direct me to said terminal was via the bus. At this stage my overall likelihood of being royally screwed was exceedingly high, but decided I’d make a break for the flight anyway. Got the excruciatingly slow bus and eventually arrived at terminal 6 at about 9.05 (remember, flight at 9.25), then frantically ran around wondering why all the signs said “Arrivals” on them. I think I was shouting swearwords at the air and mentally writing off a thousand bucks worth of emergency plane fair home by the time I spotted a Virgin employee walking around and accosted him with multiple frantic questions.

When he realised I was incredibly late for my flight he was unbelievably cool. He just said “right, run this way”, and sprinted up to the ticket desk (which turned out to be a floor up, in my frantic state I was apparently oblivious to relevant signage). I asked if I could still check in and his response was “with me you can”. He had the girl check me in and said that we would try our best, that there was no guarantee I would make the plane but we would give it a shot. We then proceeded to literally run through the airport, throwing people out of elevators, cutting in line, pausing briefly at the security desk to throw away all the liquids I had over 3 ounces, then getting through the check. He couldn’t go through that way but told me to run the last 300 yards to the gate and I might make it.

If I had not gone back to training a month ago I might have dropped dead at this point, but I managed to find the energy to run it, and made it to the gate before the queue for the plane had disappeared. By this time I was breathless, sweating, and incredibly relieved, at which point Steve (the incredibly cool dude who saved my ass) re-appeared from somewhere grinning, and gave me a big hug and a voucher for a free drink on the plane. I officially declared my undying love for Virgin America, and then proceeded to collapse into my seat.

New additions to the rules for happiness

Never believe you can get anywhere in LA in a reasonable amount of time

Never trust a small talking box to know where the airport is if you don’t

Whenever possible, fly Virgin America :)

There and back again – The Epic Adventure (Part 1)

So a couple of weeks ago I flew over to the west coast to join PhD boy on part of his intrepid road trip adventure. This involved flying to Vegas to meet him, going on a day trip to the Grand Canyon, hanging out in Vegas for a night, then driving to LA and meeting up with akawaka and then chronos for food, drinks, and floor mooching.

Overall, this was a pretty rockin’ holiday. Vegas is indeed pretty tacky, but in such an extreme unapologetic way that is has its own bright shiny ridiculous charm. I have to admit that I loved it, though I don’t know if it would be worth spending longer than a couple of days there. Our trip to the Grand Canyon was also pretty fantastic, in large part because it involved helicopters. Everyone loves helicopters.

We left Vegas after a couple of days and headed to LA, stopping along the road at a former copper mine’s ghost town, and a spectacularly redneck gas station with a huge “Ron Paul Revolution” sign 50 feet high. That plus a water fountain outside was pretty much all there was for miles around, they also sold bottled water, various foodstuffs, and saddles. Yes, saddles. Your guess is as good as mine.

We eventually made it to where we were going in LA despite multiple GPS fails. By which I do not mean that the GPS broke in any way, I mean either it failed at telling us exactly where to go, or we failed at asking it. The latter because we were occasionally uncertain about addresses, the former because GPS is only accurate to a range of 10 metres. In Ireland this not a problem, because the concept of having another nearby road when a perfectly good one already exists (and sure we could just stick a roundabout in if there was a traffic problem) would be viewed with skepticism and general distrust, but LA is a finely meshed network of interlaced freeways. Soaring concrete flyovers and bypasses and the dozen looping exits to get from one to another are pretty frequent, and if the GPS is incorrect in identifying which one you are currently on then quite frankly my friend, you be fucked.

This was understandably a source of some frustration for PhD boy, as he was doing all the driving. That’s right, I can’t drive. Yes, I know it’s ridiculous, but you know what else is? Owning a car you don’t fucking need to drive places you should walk or get the train to, and then complaining that the price of petrol is too high and there is nowhere to park. Granted I should learn to drive anyway, believe me, it’s on the list. But so far I have never had even the slightest desire to own a car, or live anywhere where this would be a necessity. So it’s a little far down said list.

In summary, driving in LA could suck a tennis ball through 15 feet of gardenhose, so we tried to do as little of it as possible. After a couple of days of impossibly perfect weather and extremely fun mooching about, it was time for me to go back to new york and PhD boy to continue his journey up to Yosemite, which I was of course deeply jealous of. Being the experienced travel junkie that I am, I did not leave very much of a margin for error in planning our trip to the airport, as it appeared on google maps to be approximately 5 miles away. Flight was at 9.25pm, so I figured if we were driving by 8pm it could not possibly leave me with less than an hour of actually being at the airport time. Now, anyone who knows me has probably experienced my somewhat cavalier attitude toward air travel. For me this actually was a substantial margin. To try and place this in context, ludicrous things I have done at airports in the last 3 years include – but are not limited to, the following:

  • Showed up at Gatwick with a boarding pass printed online and no luggage 11 minutes before my flight left.
  • Accidentally brought a flick knife to customs at Stansted
  • Lost the passport of the person travelling with me in the taxi on the way to the airport
  • Lost my own passport the previous day and picked up a new one from Cork the same day I was flying from Shannon
  • Forgotten to reset my clock to local time, overslept by an hour, and paid a fortune to get a cab to a ryanair airport an hour and a half outside the city.

On each one of these occasions, I have still gotten the flight in question. As a friend of mine said the other day “I will stop doing things at the last minute just as soon as the universe demonstrates to me that they will not work out”. I have to admit though, that even by my standards my trip back to NY was pretty spectacular.

To be continued….

“Is the chemical aftertaste the reason why people eat hot dogs, or is it some kind of bonus?”

Just kidding, I have not really eaten a hot dog. Though I am told that to be an authentic new yorker you must have eaten at least one “dirty water hot dog”, which means a tube of glistening meatlike stuff extracted from a container of possibly never changed new york water purchased from a vendor with a cart on the side of the street. If this is a dealbreaker, then I am pretty certain I will never attain new yorker status.

After a couple of weeks of firstly having a houseguest (read: moocher) on my floor, then being on holiday, then having my brother down for a visit, I am finally alone in my tiny apartment once again. Tyrion has further compounded his mooching by publicly calling me a lovely person who merely has a hard exterior. He is a born optimist, and has yet to learn the universal truths that things do not always work out ok, I am not a nice person and that some people really are just stupid. Give him time.

I am growing more accustomed to NY, settling in somewhat, and starting to get to know people. It takes more getting used to than I would have expected, but then I suppose moving from ireland to england doesn’t exactly impose culture shock, whereas europe to the US is slightly more dramatic. It’s hard to say what I think of the states or new york specifically. I see many excellent qualities, but unfortunately the men here tend to remind me of jerkboy (formerly known as the yank) and the women of the more annoying Sex and The City characters. Not that this holds for everyone, but it does seem to be fairly commonplace.

To correct one common misconception however, new yorkers are not rude. They are only rude compared to people from other parts of america. Compared to the english they are the very model of charm and decorum.

Recent thrilling adventure include my participation in a small part of PhD boy’s road trip, and my journey home from said. Since the journey home story is almost too ridiculous for words I am giving these an entry of their own. Stay tuned for yet another tale of intrepid airport adventure and basic idiocy.

They never teach you anything worth knowing

“Everybody has their own path”

“And some of them are wrong. I want to be right”

“Wouldn’t you rather be happy?”

“But how could anyone be happy without being right?”

“You might not know you were wrong”

“So I could be happy, and be wrong, but happy because I didn’t know I was wrong?”

“Exactly”

“Then I’d rather be right.”

“You don’t mean that”

“Yes I do. You are just not capable of believing I mean it”

Other People’s Money

I do not mind paying for things. I am not particularly rich, certainly by NY standards, but I am also distinctly not poor. I am not (in my opinion) particularly cheap. I do not resent paying for things that I want unless I genuinely feel like I am being ripped off, in normal circumstances if I feel something is not worth what I would have to pay for it I simply don’t buy it. Ditto for the many things that are more than worth it but which I clearly cannot afford.

So I find it annoying when people bitch and moan about say, the price of popcorn. Yes, it is blatantly ridiculous to have to pay $8 for a carton of dry disgusting lumps of food with the texture and taste of polystyrene foam. Absolutely agreed. (As you may be able to tell, I hate popcorn anyway). But the exercise of disagreeing with the price of an unnecessary commodity, and I cannot emphasise this enough, intrinsically involves not buying any.

By all means complain about income tax. You have no control over how much you are obliged to pay, what it is spent on once you’ve paid it, and not only do you not have a say but you don’t even necessarily know. But do people not understand how ridiculous it is to stand there and bitch about how it can’t possibly be a dollar fifty for a can of coke while paying for the beverage in question?

Allow me to introduce the concept of worth in economics. What something is worth, is what someone else is willing to pay for it. Is a one dollar umbrella worth $4 in a rainstorm? The answer is probably yes. You are paying a dollar for the umbrella, and $3 for the umbrella _now_. You could have bought it for a dollar yesterday when it was sunny and carried it around. You didn’t, and so you pay $3 for the privilege of not looking like a pillock wandering around the park in the blazing sunshine with an umbrella. The vendor is making $1 for the umbrella, and $3 for standing out in the bloody rain. Don’t want to pay $4? Then there is a very simple solution – get wet. Is this approach morally justifiable? I don’t know, but I have had more than one job that involved standing out in the elements and I would dearly have loved the ability to charge my employer extra when it pissed rain.

Granted, there are certain types of socio-economic unfairness that only apply to people who are of very limited means. Wealthy individuals can afford to say, buy a house and pay the mortgage, as opposed to paying rent. On a smaller scale they could also afford things like health insurance, so if something does happen they will not be stuck with insane medical expenses. I freely admit that generally, it is easier for someone with large amounts of money not to spend that money if they don’t want to. Tragic injustice? Probably. It still doesn’t explain why poor people buy more fucking lottery tickets though. Because lets face it, thats just dumb.

Essentially though, this just makes it all the more irritating when someone with a good income writes letters to the Times about the exorbitant price of salted snacks, cinema tickets, or trips to the seaside.

In summary, if you have money, do whatever the hell you want with it. Save the whales, buy a dirtbike, see Star Wars 167 times in the cinema, I could not care less. Just remember that you fucking spent it, not the whales or the bike salesman or George Lucas (may he rot in the specially conceived hell for people who resurrect rejected scripts). So if you don’t like where it went, next time you get your paycheque have it inserted rectally so that you can have something legitimate to whine about.