Thoughts from a boarding gate

I’ve been trying to figure out exactly what it is about American tourists that winds people up.  Right now I’m sitting at my gate, waiting to board a flight to Chicago, and a middle-aged, wheelchair-bound American to my right is providing me with a check-list.

When I offered my seat to him and his wife he stared at me and declared drill sergeant-like with excessive volume: “No. I’m going to stay right here.”  His wife was a lot more polite but frankly she hasn’t stopped talking (in an excessive volume) for about ten minutes while he complains about the PA system being too loud, the line at the coffee shop being too long and the wheelchair being uncomfortable.  Ooh, and now he’s just asked his wife to get him some lime water.  Best of luck with that – still or sparkling completes our O2 range over here.

Then there’s the fifty-something, baseball cap-wearing men who walk with a college campus swagger that long stopped being apt.  In fact wearing a baseball cap three decades after your first beer is as appropriate as Betty White swanning around in a mini-skirt.

I’m thankful for the re-emergence of Betty White.  She has become the go-to punchline for any (playful) age-related barb.

From what I’ve seen it does seem to be some tourist-related persona rather than just a blanket American characteristic.  True to say that Americans in general can hardly be considered unassuming in their nature but give a middle aged former frat boy a passport, a plane ticket, and a massive camera that can photograph the moon’s surface and their base personality becomes amplified.

Of course many of these men probably did national service at some point too.  That would undoubtedly explain why they come across so regimental, loud and demanding.  It may also account for their seeming attempts to camouflage with the boarding gate walls by uniformly wearing beige.

Maybe I think they stand out because when I’m visiting other countries I don’t tend to walk around with a sense of entitlement and propensity to complain that they do.  But perhaps when I’m 55 and struggling to come to terms with the Rupee exchange rate or the Tokyo transport system, I’ll too be a complete and utter pain in the arse.

And – now I think about it – that PA system is freaking loud.

Update: As if things couldn’t  get more absurd, the wheelchair guy wore a fuchsia sleeping eye mask during the flight.


The 9lives US Tour: Update 5, Days 10 & 11 & 12 & 13

The final night of what has been an odyssey of … odysettic* proportions.

To be quite honest with you it has been an uneventful week so I’m not going to bore you with the ins and outs. We did get stopped by a traffic cop on Tuesday morning while doing 47 in a 25 zone. I have no idea what Noel was trying to achieve by putting his foot down like he did.

The cop dude was kind of cool. He announced over his loud hailer that we had to turn the corner and pull in. After we did this he pulled his bike in behind us and slowly made his way towards us as Noel lowered the window. I couldn’t help repeating “have you seen this boy?”.

I bought the Daughtry album after listening to Jenni’s in Chicago. Bit close to Nickelback at times (probably the worst band in the history of the world – sorry) but when he’s good he’s great and he has a fab voice. For those in the dark he finished fifth in American Idol last year but his debut album sold 1m copies in five weeks and is the fastest selling debut rock album ever. I first saw him performing with Live on the latter’s song, “Mystery“.

So, there you go. Decent album though.

I went out with Orin on Wednesday for a feed in Palo Alto and a nice bottle of Pinot Noir (I think I’ve found my new favourite wine). We finished the night with Jack Daniels and Coke** and some watermelon and vodka drink for Orin. Actually, yeah, what the hell was that?? And just how many cherries did you swallow, Orin??

I went shopping again today in Any Mountain, an outdoor adventure store, and bought one of those uber warm jackets, a cool North Face hat and yet another shoulder bag (I wreck one every three months at the moment).

Has it really got to this? That I have to fill my blog with news that I bought a hat?

Here are Noel’s dogs – the driver is Gruber and the black thing is Margot. Both adorable.
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I’m going home/To the place where I belong

Talk to you all soon…

* just checked – no hits on Google.
** apparently no one asks for “jack daniels and coke”. I’m supposed to shorten it to J and C or something like that. My street cred took a hit there.

The 9lives US Tour: Update 4, Days 7 & 8 & 9

Day 7
While Palo Alto wasn’t exactly boiling hot it was positively tropical compared to the polar temperatures in Chicago. From 60F to -26F in the space of the four hours it took me to reach the windy city. My friend Sean had told me that it was cold and to bring a coat. Well excuse me but I’m too cool for coats. I’ve never even zipped a jacket up before – one can’t be cool if you look like mummy dressed you. Next thing you know I’ll be hiring a middle aged woman to dab my face with a damp handkerchief.

But anyway Sean met me in the city to bring me back to his apartment where I was staying with he and his family. By the time I bumped in to him on the road my ten quid fleece was beginning to demonstrate its limitations. The wind ripped through me, freezing my eyeballs and leaving me moaning incessantly about how unreasonable the meteorological situation was. “I told you it was cold,” Sean nagged, some might think quite reasonably. Well how the hell do I know what -15F feels like? I’m not Phil Connors!

Ned! Ryerson! BING!

Sorry, I loved that movie.

Friday night saw myself and Sean head to a neat Irish bar called Fadós before moving to a piano bar in the city to meet my fellow MySpacer Jenni and her friends Violent and Narin. Myself and Sean showed off and bought a 55 bucks bottle of Pinot Noir. It was nice but I could have gotten five good bottles of wine for Tesco for that. We quickly worked out that the average age of the person at the bar was twice any of us so headed down to Dublins, a very unconvincing Irish bar.

When the girls decided that we were starting to slur a bit too much they headed home and we went on to Coyote Ugly – probably the lamest place ever. Judging by the dancing talent on show I can only guess that they re-enforced the bar. We then made the short trip next door and stood in a queue for some club called Red Dragon I’m told. Sean – the brains of the operation – quickly worked out that we were in something of a minority in the queue. “What is this, Asian night?” he enquired of one of the many Asians that surrounded us? Undeterred by the feeling that we may be entering something of a cultural gap, we paid thirty dollars in (after my customary refusal to show ID) for ten minutes entertainment before heading home.

I love Chicago.

Day 8
Shopping day! I’m a rubbish shopper, especially when (a) hungover and (b) it’s well below freezing. But two pair of Levis 514s (best fitting jeans ever!), two decent Old Navy tees and – the coup de grace – a leather jacket significantly reduced from its “ten bottles of Pinot Noir” price tag later, I was revitalised. I was ready to go home with all this in tow but Sean seemed to be on a mission to visit a shop on every block in the city so it turned in to a six hour marathon session.

That night I went in to Howl at the Moon to meet Jenni for more Irish-themed fun (ie drink) and we were joined later on by my dear friend Holly. Holly was done in the early hours and as I looked at my watch at about 1am myself and Jenni could the see the end in sight…

Day 9
…so I walked in the door of Sean’s apartment at 8am knowing full well that I had to get up for my flight back to San Francisco in three hours. Even his two adorable kids thought it was funny. So I went up and got a few hours sleep before setting off for the west coast again.

Really that’s where the story ends. I got to San Francisco about 7pm to hear that Chicago Bears had lost the Superbowl which was a shame. My colleague John picked me up in his new Porsche 911 and as we screeched away from the kerb leaving a homeless waif rubbing exhaust fumes from his eyes I thought to myself…”these jeans are really f*cking nice”.

Me and Jen-Nay!

Me and Holly!

Me and Sean!

The 9lives US Tour: Update 3, Days 4 & 5 & 6

Day 4
It was an old boys night out on Wednesday as myself and Noel hit the local Thai restaurant and rolled back the years with some amusing anecdotes and references. Obviously they would be lost on you guys as they reflect on stories like that hilarious time back in 1988 when I announced quite loudly in McDonalds – and in an overly-dramatic tone – that I was a ‘failure’. Noel followed this up by randomly shoving his coke on to the floor for no reason whatsoever leading to us maturely leaving in a fit of giggles.

While in the restaurant Noel also absently rolled out his obnoxiously loud “Margot-largot-largot-largot-laaaargot” chant – a loving reference to his six-month old pug. The woman directly behind him threw numerous odd looks at him but not as pronounced as the ones we threw at her partner whose pants were pulled up so high his belt practically strapped his nipples in.

With a few beers down us we took a trip down to Madison and 5th, a totally cool bar on University Avenue. After a couple of mega-strong Baileys served up by the mega-striking-looking Brooke from New York, we rolled outside the bar to unleash a series of mildly amusing in-jokes that had us doubling up with joyous laughter. Seriously, it was depraved.

Day 5
My ability to arise at a decent hour in the morning is becoming more and more like my abilities at home – bloody awful. This time I struggled out at 9.20 for a run and after dicking around for a few hours in the house we finally hit the office at midday. Yes, this is true start-up life.

On my way home I dropped in to the local drug-store for an electric razor to attack the increasing face-fuzz of the last week. Noel called and asked me to get him some beers while I was there. I was of course totally forgetting that Americans invariably have to see ID no matter who you are. I was asked for my date of birth as a fair exchange for my lack of ID and my rattling off of the fact that I was born in 1973 seemed to satisfy the pleasant but totally bored store manager.

Myself and Orin then hit a bar in Mountain View last night while Noel tended to a business meeting in San Francisco. Orin was all about the pool table so we took it on and yours truly showed his shark tendencies with an unbeaten run of about 9 games. I was relieved to finally lose I tell you. I was getting cue elbow.

Anyway we totally got wasted, no more so than when a nice Irish guy bought us a drink at the bar. Orin cashed in and ordered a double tequila shot thing – first time I’ve had tequila since 1994. The taxi back to civilisation was comical – the guy had no freakin’ clue where we were going. Even our repeated and slow pronunciation of “University Avenue” failed to make any progress with this guy. I actually think he didn’t speak any English at all save for his expert and quick-fire reading of the rapidly-increasing meter.

Reminds me of a scene from the occasionally-funny “Brain Donors”. Ambulance-chasing lawyer John Tuturro decides to question his cab driver Mel Smith as to why the dials on the meter are spinning like a roulette wheel.
Turturro: Aren’t those numbers clicking by awful fast?
Smith: You’re probably a speed-reader.
Turturro: Well you got me there.

Day 6
Needless to say day 6 began with me regretting that tequila.

The work day was really a wash out. The morning comprised of a long breakfast, a trip to a car lot and a stroll around Fry’s checking out all the electronics I can’t afford.

Finally, my US tour has had some new dates added. So I leave for Chicago in the morning but due to work commitments I will be returning to Palo Alto for the week on Sunday night rather than going home. I fly home via LAX on Friday 9th I’m reliably informed by my “people”.

Isn’t that exciting? Eh?


The 9lives US Tour: Update 2, Days 2 & 3

Hello friends of the world. Thank you for your comments on my previous blog. To take up Lesley’s point on the last blog I hope not to make this a *yawn* situation with updates on what colour socks I’m wearing.

They’re navy.

Rest of day 1
So day 1 finished off with me hitting San Fran about 10pm on Saturday night. We were a half-hour sitting on the tarmac at O’Hare with no clue as to what the delay was. The pilot comes on and says “Uh, we’re not really sure what’s going on here folks. No one is telling me anything.” And this is why we should have full and unwavering faith in the aviation industry.

The biggest thrill of the day (outside of imaginging us losing a landing gear wheel as we set down on the runway and then skidding to a safe stop after crashing through parked cars and a chicken-wire fence) was being introduced to Sani Seat. Sani seat is a public toilet seat cover that is fitted to a controlled mechanism presenting you with a clean toilet seat every time. I didn’t even need to go but sat down a few times on it. Fantastic.

I was picked up at the airport by a small man in a big car with tinted windows. I’ve never had someone stand there with my name written on a card before – I felt like a rock star; the guy from Status Quo or someone like that.

So I got to my mate Noel’s place and met his two lovely pugs and hit the sack for about 10 hours.

Day 2
Not much happening here. Went for a jog and then Walked the dogs for a while and spent a few hours with our colleague, Emanuel. He’s got the world’s biggest keyboard. Seriously this thing could double up as a simultaneous surfboard for a football team.

Went out for dinner that night with a whole bunch of people and by 10.30pm I was dead to the world, perhaps expedited by my three glasses of pinot noir. Looking forward to a long and comfy night’s sleep.

Day 3
3am. Wide awake in America.

By 6.30am I’d had enough. There’s only so much tossing and turning can be done. So I hit the streets for a run and then got to the office for my first American work day!

3pm. As my eyes rolled to the back of my head, I could have drilled holes through my cranium and looked behind myself.

But I found my energy again on Monday evening as my mySpace friend Orin took a 20 mile trip over from Fremont to unleash her professional massage technique on my disheveled body. I get sports injury massage treatment every week back home so even though this was a different technique my body reacted quite well to it (right, Orin?). My ability to not shut up for an hour reared its head again – something my weekly therapist normally counters with the well-chosen but good-humoured phrase ‘shut up you dickhead’ – but I think the inherent originality in the scenario led Orin to embrace it. And besides my silence could be purchased by one good pinch at any time.

Finally, my exam results arrived on Tuesday morning. I don’t know how they corrected them so quickly but they did. Talk about speed-read. Anyway, it was all good. I picked up one A and three B+’s in my exams and my final higher diploma grade is a H1 with a 3.45 GPA. Can’t really spit out the dummy there *punches fists in the air triumphantly*

I’m heading off to play tennis now I believe. After that I think we’re going out for dinner. Perhaps following that I’ll yawn for a while. The life of a vagabond.

The 9lives US Tour: Update 1, Day 1

I thought it might be exciting to blog from an airport. Never done it before.

It’s 5pm central time – I’m getting used to the lingo already – here in Chicago and I’m in the middle of a four hour stopover on my trip from Dublin to San Francisco.

Got to be honest I can not even remember sitting at the boarding gate in Dublin this morning – seems like 7000kms ago. So much has happened today. We had to get off at Shannon airport (22 minute flight from Dublin – could have almost run it) and do the US immigration thing. Have to say it was a relief to do it there because it’s my least favourite part of visting this fine country. I had to fill in a few forms, get my fingerprints taken, have my picture taken and account for my future movements in the US. She got a bit nit-picky about the fact that I was going over on business because apparently if I was doing anything operational I’d need a visa. Gimme a break. Anyway I convinced her it was just training, which it is.

Another queue, more questions, then my carry-on bag got searched for liquids. This was followed by an hour of sitting around before boarding for the 7 hour plus flight to Chicago. That passed uneventfully. American Airlines is actually a bit rubbish. Singapore Airlines have tvs in the seats in front of you so you can settle down and watch movies if you like. AA (which is where some of the guys sitting near me are going judging by their drinking habits) put a few small 12″ screens up at a height and in the central aisle, and expect you to get immersed in it from there. Rubbish.

No hassles from customs when I landed which was a pleasant change. Picked up my bag and then, uh, checked it in again. Odd. So now I’ve been kicking around O’Hare for the last few hours. Had my fingerprints and picture taken again but I think the guy just had a crush on me.

Already spoke to Jenni in Chicago *waves* and we’re going to part-ay next weekend if I’m not half dead (or too fat to get on a plane*).

So that’s update one. More to come as other stuff happens, perhaps.

PS The department of Homeland Security has raised the aviation threat level to orange. At least that’s the message that I’ve gotten every five minutes for the last 120 minutes.
*I’ve already eaten twice on the plane including some odd chicken dish and pizza; couple of little biscuits/deserts and now I’ve had a noodles/vegetable thing as well as a Starbucks at the airport. Boredom does this to me. Thank God for MySpace.