Bonus Travelogues

A few more travel stories, typed mostly while the television was on. The first bunch was better.

  1. When the Going Gets Tough, Tough (San Jose, Calif.) [2004]
  2. Interchangeable (Austin, Texas)
  3. In Other Words... (San Jose, Calif.)
  4. A Room with a View of a Room (Manhattan, New York) [2006?]

2004


When the Going Gets Tough, Tough

Or, “Once More, with Fleeing.”

I came briefly out of retirement to teach a training class in San Jose, and my, how things haven’t changed. At least, not for the better. I’d lost all my frequent-flyer privileges and the flight was over-full, so again I found myself smashed in between the window and the right half of my neighbor’s newspaper. It was 50 degrees warmer outside when we landed than when we took off, but by this time I was feeling pretty warm myself.

Driving to the lab the afternoon before class began worried me—I hadn’t been to this lab before—since there was an empty guard booth and a mechanical arm I couldn’t drive past. This was another one of those buildings where the training lab was “underground”: the ground floor is the second floor, the second floor is the third floor, and etc.

I think the hotel had been silence-proofed. One night a loud party of insurance salespeople shook the whole building (or maybe just shook my room), and one morning my neighbor’s alarm clock woke me up. But then again, perhaps it wasn’t noisy enough, since on my last night there a truck crashed into the overhang in front of the lobby.

Driving back to the hotel after work one evening, I almost ran into a horse.

As for the course, there was someone in the front row clipping his fingernails, which (alas) isn’t that unusual; but later he started flossing his teeth, which is a first. (“Par for the coarse”?) Another unpleasant incident: we had the same number of students as chairs, which was fine. Now, our second day was the first day of the class next door. Before we started, when only a couple of my students had arrived, a few people from the other class stopped in to ask if they could take a chair, since their class was overbooked; I told them we needed them all, and they seemed fine with that. One man came in and asked if he could take a chair, but then started taking the chair away before I could answer. When I told him we were full, he barked, “Doesn’t look full to me!”, and threw the chair back.

Apart from that, not much news. Driving to Sacramento on Friday evening wasn’t such a hot idea—it wound up taking four or five hours for a 100-mile drive. In fact, it took longer than the flight back home, during which the pilot kept warning us about some awful turbulence that never happened.

Not just for breakfast, lunch, and dinner any more,

—Robert


Interchangeable

One evening, I left the hotel to get dinner, one of my five indistinguishable Mexican dinners that week. When I got back, I found that my parking spot was occupied by a car identical to the one I was driving. Stranger still, on a different occasion (it doesn’t matter which one) I returned to the hotel and parked next to a car having a license plate (X74 LZX) one digit different from my rental car’s license plate (X75 LZX).

When I got back from work one day, I found that the housekeeper had left my door open. Apparently, we were supposed to try out all the rooms, and stay in the one we liked the best. In keeping with the spirit of things, the television in my room kept changing channels by itself, or rather by my neighbor’s remote control.

To keep from fading into anonymity, one student brought his own name sign to class.

On my way back from work I hit every red light, though I imagine the fact that there were only three of them makes it much less impressive.


In Other Words...

To substitute for a trainer who was called away on a family emergency, I was sent at the thirteenth hour to teach a class in San Jose. Because of the last-minute travel arrangements, I took whatever taxi, flight, hotel, and rental car reservations I could get.

On the morning of my departure, a white stretch limo showed up, ten minutes late, at my apartment. Now, whenever a white stretch limo picks me up—which seems to be an unnaturally high percentage of the time—the main thing going through my mind is the hope that my neighbors don’t see me getting in. (Being ten minutes late also happens an unnaturally high percentage of the time.) I gather the limos are usually owned by the drivers, and I get a different driver each time, which means there’s a large number of white limos out there. But who thinks the demand for white stretch limos is that great? Does anyone ever specifically ask for one? When the weather is pleasant, I’d probably rather ride in the back of a pickup truck than in a white stretch limo.

While I was waiting in the airport security line, there was an announcement that someone had left some X rays at the X-ray machine, which sounded odd. (On one of the screens listing the departure destinations and times was the all-caps destination WASHINGTON DULL, which didn’t seem odd at all.) I was flying one of the low-cost carriers, so my departure gate was way in the back of the terminal. The flight had a stopover in Phoenix, meaning that the best-case time to get from Chicago to San Jose was 7-1/2 hours. It turned out not to be the best case, though: at our scheduled boarding time there was an announcement that the pilots were missing, and also that there had been some mechanical problems with our airplane the night before, so the airplane was parked somewhere else at the airport. The last part of the announcement was, “Someone has to go get it.” I couldn’t really tell if they were asking for volunteers, so I didn’t offer to go get it.

After the long flight, I stood in a long, slow line for the rental car. Each person in front of me had a different problem that took longer than it should have to explain or resolve: one person had a canceled credit card, one tried to change the company’s policy of not allowing one-way rentals, one wanted a car that was a particular shape and color, and so forth. After all that I walked out to get my car, only to find that one of its tires was half empty. (Some people would have said it was half full.) The rental-car staff were going to refill the tire for me, but their air compressor was broken; so in haste I agreed that it didn’t look too bad—on what grounds it’s not clear to me now—and that I would inflate the tire myself at a filling station, and drove off to look for my hotel.

I think I generally have reasonable expectations when it comes to hotels. While I didn’t have high hopes for the Executive Inn, I didn’t expect it to be an ancient motel with doors on the outside of the building (leading into the parking lot), or to get a big metal room key with the room number printed on it. The hotel was next door to a liquor store and a bar, and across the street from Bad Boys Bail Bonds. The inside of the room was no treat, either (although they did provide a free packet of Cup O’Flavor coffee). The tiled bathroom floor looked as if someone had dropped a bowling ball on it; there was a dusty tip envelope in the bathroom, which looked as if it had been there a while. Under the bed I found a pair of socks, along with something I can’t bring myself to type. Call me if you really want to know.

The training center was fine. (In fact, I probably should have asked if I could sleep there instead of going back to the hotel.) It was within walking distance of the hotel, and since the weather was mild I figured it would be good to get outside for a bit. I noticed that I was the only person walking around, most mornings. I walk pretty fast, but even so the WALK signs at crosswalks never gave me enough time to walk across the street. They should have been replaced with RUN FOR YOUR LIFE signs, since I could tell the drivers out there wouldn’t have hesitated to run over me if I hadn’t sprinted across the street before their lights turned green.

A brief exchange from class:

Me: Blah blah blah an update installation installs over an existing product.

Student: In other words, an update installation installs over an existing product?

Me: Yes.

Since I hadn’t been driving, I didn’t notice until Friday that the car tire was completely flat. I inflated it that evening, but the whole time I was driving to Sacramento on Saturday I was afraid it was going to explode. On Sunday morning it was completely flat, but luckily my father had an electric pump, so I was able to get back to the corner, to the freeway, to the Bay Area, to the right exit, to the gas station, to the airport, to the other airport.

On the ride home from O’Hare at 12:30 a.m. on Sunday/Monday, I was just awake enough to notice that the limo driver kept falling asleep.

Your no-stop shop,

—Robert


2006?


A Room with a View of a Room

(Or, Am I Saved? No.*)

Preface: I don’t leave the house that much, nowadays, so it was nice to have sensations that were more vivid than my old/young, benumbed self would have found them. So nice, in fact, that I feel no need ever to repeat them.

The journey started, as all journeys do, with a scary limo ride to O’Hare. (Polite driver, though.) Times being what they are, there was an abundance of waiting in the waiting area. Two of my fellow passengers were sporting bad, matching face-lifts; I couldn’t tell whether they were sisters or mother and daughter, which I suppose was the point. For one of them, anyway.

Our flight took off late because a cardboard box blew onto the runway. That sticks in my mind mainly because I had read some reviews of the hotel where I’d be staying, and one reviewer mentioned that they’d prefer to have slept in a cardboard box than stayed at the hotel. (I assume the reviewer wasn’t thinking of a box on an airport runway.) The minimal research I had done also revealed that the hotel had a youth hostel on the lower floors, one floor reserved for models, and an artists-in-residence floor. I had my hopes, but that’s another story.

The scary ride to O’Hare was good practice for the even scarier ride from LaGuardia: the taxi’s ABS, air bag, and check-engine lights were all lit up, and (in retrospect) my instructions—“get me there alive and tonight”—might not have been the most perspicuous way of phrasing things.

It turns out the hotel was just fine, after all, except that I couldn’t unlock the door. The hotel staff couldn’t open it at first, either, so it wasn’t just me. The room turned out to be a large suite, a big, pleasant surprise for a hotel in NYC. I initially thought the first room was the whole suite; I’m kind of glad it wasn’t, on account of the large closeup photo of Picasso’s face peering into the room.

Overall, I think quirky is the word we’re looking for (in the sense of idiosyncratic, and not the architectural sense of a lengthwise groove on a molding between the convex upper part and the soffit (what’s a soffit?)). To start, there was an inflatable moose head over the bed (I know what your next question is, and the answer is no), and the tiny bathroom’s tiling took full advantage of the primary-clown-colors palette. (Not being able to take my eyes off the tile color scheme led to my repeatedly almost hitting my head on the corner of a glass shelf.) In the lobby, next to the elevators, was Hamlet’s soliloquy in ransom-note form.

I found a sequin on the floor of my room, suggesting that the previous occupant had a better time than I was having. And I can’t remember if the room had an alarm clock; it turned out not to matter, since loud construction across the street started at 6:00 a.m. every morning.

One night, we had a loud work event at Grand Central Station. Any of you using “Grand Central Station” in jokes to indicate crowds or noise volume are using the phrase correctly.

Being a suburbanite, I can’t quantitatively or qualitatively compare the garbage on NYC streets with garbage on other cities’ streets, but for sheer variety and volume, NYC is world-class. On my way to work, there was just a meat slicer on the sidewalk; on my way back, the sidewalk was full.

When I returned from work the last day, someone had apparently used my room’s microwave oven while I was out; instead of displaying the current time, it displayed the cooking-time remaining (:22).

The neighbor of my neighbor is my enemy,

— .R

(*Out-of-towner’s anagram of Madison Ave.)


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