Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Little Blogging

I've been derailed. No blogging lately- I had a baby.

But, I'll be back soon.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Baja is Spanish for Coma

Baja is Spanish for Coma

Every fall and every spring we take the short flight to the tip of Baja. From there we drive eighty kilometers north to a little town called Pescadero nestled between coastal farms and the foothills of the Baja desert. At the second tope (speed bump) we hang a left at the broken brick building and drop down onto a bumpy and dusty farm road that takes us for one mile through rickety fences of palos (sticks) staked into the ground with barbed wire hung between them. Periodically we pass a field of hunched farm workers, a ranch horse tied to a mango tree, a pile of smoldering garbage. Usually in that order.

We hang a left at the barely recognizable Volkswagon Micro bus, circa 1965. The rusted bus peeks out of the soil and grass like a hippo coming up to view of the afternoon activities. We wind around to the left of the center fields and pop out onto the beach lane that leads to our house. No address. We’re the yellow one next to the white one that’s two down from Gary’s rentals and diagonal to the orange place that a few families share. If we had a fire, we’d have to let it burn. GPS can’t help you find a place that doesn’t exist (except on some convoluted Mexican documentation stored on microfiche in a tax office in La Paz that’s only open three days a week during the hours of “whenever we want to” and “later”). Baja is a place where most directions consist of a line sounding something like “Bueno entonces, just keep going until the road gets really rough and then go right at the big cactus.”

There, on our porch in Baja we participate in our favorite Baja pastime. We stare at it. And when I mean “it” I mean whatever it is that you're looking at. The cover of your book you’ve been clutching since breakfast but still haven’t cracked; the humming bird that’s determined to suck the life out of the flowers in front of you; the hammock swaying lightly in the breeze; the whale pods spouting out to sea. Just stare at it, and slowly the Baja coma will drift over you and hold you hostage for the duration of your stay.

I once arrived at our house for a two week stint and didn’t leave the front porch for the first four days of our trip. Didn’t walk to the beach, not even down the driveway. Just sat in a chair and stared at “it”.

When do we do this? When do we give ourselves time to empty? To shrink ourselves instead of expand. When do we give ourselves time to not learn, not push, explore, conquer, compete, clean or acquire experience. Sure, we give ourselves a nap everyday. We may meditate in the morning, or have a nice long run to clear the head. Me time. But, we fight for it. And, it’s sandwiched between two adrenaline-requiring time-crunched events that will take more than our “me time” gives. So we have to empty ourselves on a regular basis. Under stimulate.

This is easy in Baja because it has a special magic that you don’t get anywhere else. Every time we drive from Cabo to Pescadero there’s a certain sweeping view of the desert that pulls me to say: “You know, Baja would be a great place to kill someone and get away with it.” I say it every time. Not because of the lawlessness of it, but because of the sheer lost feeling you get when you gaze at the expansive desert of cactus and low shrubs crawling from the two lane highway to the peaks of the Sierra de la Laguna. Mountains that look like desert. You can do anything threre and it's invisible. It swallows the events that take place there, turning the evedence into dust. The desert makes thoughts that would otherwise be dark and strange seem uneventful and forgettable. Nothing is traumatic in the desert because everything is so still.

If you really search the landscape you can pick out the individual forms of Buzzards perched on cactus with their wings one-quarter expanded, ready to either eat or sun. They too are staring at it in their own Baja coma. They just perch, like cactus fruit, forever. Buzzards pick the carcass clean and leave little trace of its previous form. When I leave Baja I too am little trace of my previous form.

If you relax your eyes, looking at the desert is a lot like looking at the ocean. Smooth and predictable one bank of earth pushes into another like waves moving so slowly that their intervals can only be counted in geologic ages. On a macro scale the vegetation is like kelp or foam sitting passively and waiting for the next current. It never comes.

Still moving north, periodically a family can be seen by the side of the road picnicking in the back of the truck. Taco in hand, they stare at each other, emptying their heads. On the side of the road, they park with no particular view to appreciate. They don’t need a Vista Point as a reason to stop. Just a low growing tree for shade, some snacks and
plastic chairs. I want to stop. Stop and empty my head.

Maybe it’s the fish tacos, maybe it’s the dust, maybe it’s the beer with lime. Or, it’s the gecko’s blowing kissing sounds from their hiding place in the ceiling, combined with the late night dog barks that travel through the arroyos. For now I’ll consider Baja a Bruja (Witch) with the power to cast a spell that feels like a coma; soft like a trance and lingering like a hangover.

Friday, September 01, 2006

I You He She It , We You They

Everybody’s favorite word is I.

On my final flight home after a speedy three weeks on the road I worked my way down the aisle on a Southwest flight. I scanned the rows of seats desperately in need of something at the front of the plane. Last on and first out. Middle seats are fine if they’re in the first few rows. Sqeezing between two strangers is worth the chance to deplane quickly.

Exhausted and frayed from the week, I plopped down into a middle seat. The man in the aisle seat could see right away I was going home. The look of surrender on my face made a perfect audience for what was to be his one-hour-thirteen-minute monologue that started ended and middled with the word I.

His hair was colored a nice tawney brown. He had a mouth full of veneers and a smooth knit shirt with a collar and three buttons down the front. Perfect for detailing the hard earned physique he was proud of. He wasn’t particularly big but big enough to be considered a real man. His hands were warm, I knew because he shook mine. I guessed he was in his fifties. He was eager and ready to engage. He sat with his arms crossed trying to contain himself but the suspense was just too much for him to bear.

“What do you do?” he asked and before I could exhale an answer he volunteered his resume.

“I’m” there’s that I word “retired. Well, I’m recently retired but before that I was in fashion. I loved the business and I did very well. I loved it. I had two offices, one in Hong Kong and one in New York. I just loved it and now I’m retired. Well I’m recently retired. But who knows what I’ll be doing next. I don’t know. I’m not worried about it. I just got married and I have a lovely wife. She’s younger than me and I think she wants a baby. I already have two kids…” and it went on.

My responses were limited to head nodding and unrecognizable noises that functioned as confirmations of what he was saying.

Twenty minutes in and he finally interrupted himself.

“You seem like a spitfire.” I have no idea how he came to that. I had barely shown signs of life. “Let me ask you something.”

Oh goody it’s going to turn into a dialogue. I was in suspense.

“If you had a benefactor, and you had three million dollars tomorrow, what would you do with it?” Great question I thought. This is going to be fun. I pondered for a minute and he crossed his arms trying to be patient. But again the waiting was too much for him to handle.

“…because I don’t know what I would do. Hmmm. Let me think. I know. I’d…”

My eyes dropped to my Heinekin that had recently been delivered by a cheery but distracted flight attendant.

What was I thinking? You might guess that I was thinking the following:

“This guy is killing me. Why won’t he shut up? Egotist. I, I, fricken I. Dude, if you want to monologue get a therapist. Why are you even talking to me? Wouldn’t it be easier to just talk to a mirror? What the F%$# time is it?”

If this was your guess you are partially right. I started like this but ended in a different place. I started with tension in my face, my head pushed to the back of the chair and a grin-and-bear-it attitude. But then I tried something else.

Lately I’ve been experimenting with changing my experience of things by making a decision to change my attitude and my own dialogue, my inner one. It’s worked elegantly and it’s creeping into all parts of my life. In the last year I adhered to one rule: no complaining. It’s been great. No complaining actually made me feel like not complaining. And as a result my husband isn’t as exhausted by me, my job is more fun and my friendships are easier to maintain. So I tried a similar approach to this guy on the plane. But with a little different strategy.

I decided to feel less like an aggravated passenger just muscling my way to the finish line and more like a Chaplain. A listener with an open heart. And my inner dialogue went from “this guy’s killing me” to something much easier on the senses.

I dropped the expectation that I would contribute to the conversation verbally, and I just decided to listen. I listed without discrediting or judging his eagerness to share his life with me. And that’s when things changed. My head relaxed off the seatback, I enjoyed the rest of my beer and I let him rant about whatever he wanted without guiding the conversation at all.

In the end my thought was that he was not an obnoxious egotist but a man who was proud of his work and of his children and a man who was ready to share himself quickly and easily with anyone who’s curious. That he lived honestly and was outwardly loving toward the people who were important to him in his life. And I learned that he was ready for more people to fill his new free retirement schedule. I saw a man who was enthusiastic and willing to talk about the good in anything even in the people who had given him grief in his life. And most importantly, I saw in myself the ability to see the good in someone who minutes earlier could have just been another person tugging on my exhausted ear. I opened my heart and that felt great. And that’s something I am going to try again and again until it’s easy. Be a Chaplain and the most important word becomes you.

Friday, August 04, 2006

I Spoke Too Soon

I’m stuck. Yesterday I spoke with my office and “how do you feel about Australia?” was a question that came up early in the conversation. “Great!” My lips were in the routine of accepting all assignments. My lips assumed that the rest of my body would be okay with the possibility of mobilizing to Australia.

My lips are my asset. They’re the one body part that earns me more money and credit than any other part. Some get paid to build with their hands, others get paid to run with their feet and I paid to talk with my lips. I trust my lips, they serve me well, but this time they may have spoken to soon and betrayed me.

After I got off the phone my organs started to take a vote about the possible trip to Australia. Minutes later there was mutiny within and my body spoke up and said “hey lips, but we don’t want to go to Australia. You think you know us? You don’t. Next time ask. I mean, we’ll go to Australia, but we’re not going to like it. But, as your loyal subjects we’ll take one for the team.” And then under their breath I heard “Ya know, Lips is such a fucking Diva. She’d be nowhere without us. But do you think she knows that? No. She just fires off and expects us to fall in line. Whatever.”

I listened to the debate happening inside my body and I was surprised. I don’t want to go to Australia? And, on somebody else’s dime? So I started to go down the list of other places I’d like to go to see if it was just Australia that was being rejected or had this “we don’t want to travel” attitude spread over other geographies? I ran the list: Egypt, Chile, The Grand Canyon, Puerto Rico, Reno etc. All locations gave me no excitement. All my organs just sat quietly like I was reading roll call at the front door of a gas chamber. My lips even sat still. Okay, now this is getting creepy. I’m a traveler who doesn’t feel like traveling. And if that’s true, what else do I do?

Without travel I’m lost. If I’m not recovering from one trip or planning the next my life feels strange. Like a big waiting room. Just waiting. Waiting for anything. And for the first time since I started my traveling job, I actually want to hang out in the waiting room.

Many of my travel and experiences in the past few years have been external. Observations and experiences in other cultures, both domestic and abroad that have resulted in an internal change of some sort. External triggering internal. And, my lips and organs have been perfectly happy earning money and supporting the Lancome dressed Diva.

But now, maybe the internal will trigger the external. Maybe some quiet time at home, with my domestic and genetic tribe will allow my lips and organs to rest so I can have an internal journey that will eventually trigger an external change. And there are lots of external projects that require some internal work. I’d give you a list but I’m sure you can imagine it. Everyone has one, and most of them look pretty similar person to person. You know, re-kindle stuff with spouse, loose some weight, work on my novel, etc…

So next time I get the question “how do you feel about X” I’ll make sure the Diva doesn’t’ speak too soon and first gets a vote from her roady organs. Because without her crew, her show doesn’t look that great. And that could damage her career more than a short sabbatical. I just have to relax and understand that just because I get off the road for a little while (two months or so) that doesn’t mean I can’t get back on. They say that life happens while you’re making plans. But if I’m not making travel plans, what other kind of plans are there? Maybe I’ll try to stay home for a while and find out. I’ll ask lips and organs and see what they think.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Are You a Traveler?

How far from home do you have to be to consider yourself traveling?

I’ve been home for three weeks. And when I say home I mean no air travel. My work calendar is relatively clear, I have a trip to Los Angeles and some Sacramento work coming up. But no trips that include big miles. So I’ve been looking at my leisure time and thinking of things I’d like to do that would be included in the “travel” category.

In the last two years I’ve worked or vacationed in England, Corfu and Paxos Greece, Mexico City, New York City, Beijing, Shanghai, Taiwan, Penang, Hong Kong, the East and West sides of Baja, Vancouver B.C., Portland, Minneapolis, and Los Angeles. Now, staring at my calendar all I can think of is Reno.

I consider myself a Traveler, and it’s a little embarrassing to confess that out of all the places I’ve been and all the places I could go, Reno Nevada has made the list. It’s a little out of character for me to choose such a place and the question is: Is a funky town just a three-hour road trip away traveling? And, if Reno is traveling, does a weekend in Lakeport count? And, if Lakeport counts as a trip, how about a fifteen minute drive up the freeway to Healdsburg? A trip to the grocery store? A walk around the block? So, how far from home do you have to be to consider yourself traveling?

Let’s look at this simple answer to this simple question:

Question: “What are your hobbies?”
Answer: “Well, I like gardening and cooking and I really love travel.”

When I hear this answer, and it’s a common one, I am clear on gardening; it’s when you put your hands in some dirt and try to grow stuff. I’m clear on the cooking thing: it’s when you chop stuff and mix it together and either put some sort of sauce on it or put in on a source of heat for a specific length of time. For many, it’s a pleasurable pastime. But, travel? That’s a loaded response.

For some, travel means throwing on a rucksack and heading off into the unknown with the hope of becoming brothers with a Sherpa or discovering some new species. “Dude, you haven’t lived until you’ve danced with a shaman at twelve-thousand feet. It’s like…it’s like you become one of them man.”

For others it includes packing a different outfit for each day, complete with a matching hand bag and mesh sarong that was carefully considered and purchased at Overstock.com. Poolside that person or persons, might request a dinner reservation near the table where the Captain eats with the hope of getting a photo with him on “formal night.”

Still, for some travel means a one-dollar taco at mile marker forty-nine in Southern Baja.. “It’s right there in front of the big cactus. Get the pork. My friend turned me onto it and now, nothing else tastes like a taco.”

But for me it means going anywhere I’m not. And, I’m not in Reno. Not right now anyway. From where I live, Reno is an easy four-hour drive. And, that feels like travel to me. But it still doesn’t answer my question. Just because it feels like travel, doesn’t mean it is travel. How about this as a gauge? If it shows up on Travelocity as a destination, it counts. Not. There’s no way I could book a shaman dance ritual at twelve-thousand feet using my American Express. Not on Travelocity. I don’t think they have a deal to sell un-booked huts at base camp two. Not yet anyway.

I know. What if we made a specific distance from your home? How about one hundred fifty miles? That’s far enough to make it hard to go and come back without staying the night somewhere. But that won't work either, because I take day trips to Los Angeles from the Bay Area all the time. I know several people who physically commute distances farther than that. So maybe travel isn’t distance specific. Distances are arbitrary. What’s far to one person, is next door to another. China feels closer every time I go. At first it felt a million miles away, now it feels an appropriate eight thousand seven hundred something. To my Mom, Guerneville to Sacramento is a reason to pack carefully.

Okay. We could go differentiation. The more different the place is the more “travel” valid it becomes. But, that’s flawed too because one, it’s relative and subjective, and two the chances of my feeling totally at home in a foreign place is pretty high. People go on vacation all the time and decide that that’s where they belong. It doesn’t feel exotic or different. It feels right. Sometimes more right than their native zip code.

So, I’m back to travel is anywhere I’m not. And if that’s true that means that Reno counts. Why Reno? Because it piques my interest. My image of it is that it’s crass, cheap entertainment for people who probably shouldn’t be spending their money in casinos. It’s bad architecture and hot weather. It’s a wanna-be Vegas and it’s a little sleazy. People pee in the hotel pools and wait for night to fall so they can do something seedy that involves cash, cowboy boots and plastic seat covers. But, people are moving there in droves.

I want to see if my assumptions are accurate or are they just some accumulation of images from bad movies and gambling billboards on the I80. I’m curious and curiosity doesn’t kill the cat, it causes travel. And when you’re curious you go and find out for yourself what something is like. You open your eyes and see it for the first time. You invest in being impressed or at least of getting an impression. And that is what I think travel really is. It’s an attitude not a destination. So when I hear people say “I really love to travel” I think it really means “I’m a curious person.”

And I’m curious about Reno. So, it’s made it onto my travel destination list and the only way it will come off is if it gets checked off. It may not be noble, or earthy, or first class or eco-aware. I don’t have to cash-in points and I’m not part of the Silverado Player’s Club. I don’t have to make reservations months in advance or save up for years. I don’t need a GPS, or frameless backpack to survive there, or a Sherpa to find my way. I can go without an inflatable travel pillow and I can’t find a Lonely Planet guide on it. But, it’s somewhere I’m not, and I’m curious enough to go there. It counts. It’s not far but it’s travel. And no mile marker, travel guide or Web-log can tell me otherwise. If your record distance is only a tank of gas away from your garage, where they all speak your language and you recognize everything on the menu, consider yourself a traveler. It’s how you see things, not the destination that makes you a true traveler. Welcome to the club.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Let's Get Greasy...My Top Fives

The friendliest people in Greece are the Austrians.

Earlier this month we spent nearly two weeks in Greece. It was a great trip but it had some frustrations. Greece is a place I liked but the next time I plan to spend two days getting to my destination, I’ll keep moving down my list of places I’d like to visit. Below is a list of the top five downers of my trip.

  1. The feeling of rejection
  2. Body odor that can remove paint- yes it goes just that deep.
  3. Second hand smoke
  4. Gummy sweatiness –it was so hot there even Gandhi would have taken a sabbatical just to sniff some conditioned air
  5. False starts through doorways

Don’t worry, I’ll get to the good stuff but first let me explain the above list. Some of you who have done some traveling in Europe already are harkening back to your adventures in smoke filled French cafes, Italian restaurants or train stations where the environment was a permutation of the above list. For those of you who have blocked those memories out, or have not yet had the privilege of world travel, let me enlighten you so that you might better determine whether Greece is for you.

First- The feeling of rejection. “Oh, you’re going to Greece? Ah, the people are great there. I’ve heard great stories.” This is what we heard from our friends when they learned we were going to Greece. We expected the kind of friendliness a traveler needs just to feel like they’re not going to get run out of town. Our expectations were quickly corrected. Aside from a handful of good hosts, most of our interactions with the Greek people ended in either a dead sense of ambivalence or a twisted version of sniffing-onions-face combined with “don’t even try to thank me in my own language” with a hint of “get the fuck out of my store” whether we bought a pack of gum, a ticket on a ferry or a hundred-Euro dinner. Considering how hot the weather was, the Greeks were a little cold.

I don’t think it was specific to our group because each of us got the same kind of careless treatment no matter where we went and with whom we were shopping. We didn’t feel offended, just curious about what we did to deserve such lackadaisical customer service countrywide. Maybe you’re thinking “Because your American, Ding-Dong.” Not true. Most of the time they thought we were French or Norwegian or English. We often had to confess to being American to which we either got the “Schwarzeneger” cheer or a sly “Koby” with a thumbs up. No Iraq comment, no Bush opinion, only recognition of a body- building Government Celebrity and an acquitted rapist. And, both references with barely a smile.

We didn’t want a cheer-leading squad to punctuate our exits, or a series of double-cheek kisses, or photos with the shop owner. Just a simple “your welcome” that was actually directed at us with some evidence of intention. Instead we felt rejected and unimportant, two major symptoms of poor customer service. If Greece was a Hilton, it would be sold to the Super 8.

Second- Body odor. In Greece there’s a lot of it and it releases itself from lots of different body types that practice many different diets and hygiene habits. The result is a defining stench that I’m sure could be transformed into some sort of power source. By 2012, if they tried hard enough, Athens could be totally off the grid. They could unleash themselves from the tethers of foreign oil and function only on domestic body vapor; which as a bonus, is renewable, sustainable and readily available.

Third- Second hand smoke. Like in Italy, France and China, smoking is a national sport in Greece. They love to smoke. Case in point: We ate Gyros morning, noon and night. At George’s Corner, our favorite walk up Gyro spot, instead of Greek fortune cookies or breath mints, they gave away “George’s Corner” lighters with any purchase of 3 Euro or more. We’re not smokers, or pyros so we collected them in a bowel and then left them in the rental.

Fourth-Gummy Sweatiness. I think I covered this pretty thoroughly in section two. I could just add that the heat was the kind that, in our Corfu non-air conditioned fourth floor stone apartment, would make you wake up at two in the morning and whisper yell “I HATE THIS PLACE!!!!”

Fifth-False starts through doorways. Let’s just say “please, after you” is not a concept that many Greeks or Italians (lots of Italian in Greece) have incorporated into their daily habits. Consequently, getting in and out of say, a ferry boat or a crowded corner grocery store looked like a Chaplain skit. Stop. Go. Stop. Go. Push. Stop. Go.

Okay. On to the good stuff:

  1. Gyros
  2. Driving a little boat around the island
  3. Dinner time
  4. Nobody asked for payment up front
  5. The Austrians

First- Gyros. Gyros rock. I’m sure you’re all thinking “yeah, they do rock!” but oh no my friends. In Paxos and Corfu they did something special that I’ve not seen here in the good old US of A. Their Gyro ingredient choice it is very much in the spirit of our cuisine interests. They put fries in their Gyros. Yes people, deep fried chunks of tasty poison. What? Chicken? Pork? Whatever Greek Gyro man…just don’t forget the fries. We double-fisted them daily.

Second- Driving a little boat around the island. Most of our time was spent in Paxos, a small island south of Corfu in the Ionian Sea. The island is probably ten kilometers long and six or eight wide. It was Petite and conquerable by a twenty-five horse engine attached to a shallow piece of fiberglass. And that’s just what we did.

We rented a little boat and, along with our friends, we headed out for a day of aqua-adventure. I’m not going to describe it. I’ll just say that as we pulled out of the harbor, I sat at the bow of the boat and couldn’t help but scream in joy. For minutes I yelped and hollered and screeched over the sound of the motor. It wasn’t worth resisting and it felt great. It’s rare that anything gets me so excited that I have to explode into piercing joy-song. As adults we’re jaded and that moment cut right to my core. It’s nice to know I’m alive. If you go to Greece, rent a boat.

Third-Dinner time. Dinner started around nine-thirty and came to a close around midnight. For two weeks it was our routine to eat dinner way too late, talk for way too long and drink way too much.

These hours spent at various tables around the island were sacred hours where fart jokes and life-talk dominated our intellect. Where sloppy drunk was our goal and eating too much was only a matter of time. We deepened our friendship with the people we traveled with through discussions about which Greek foods bound us up and which ones aided the ever important daily poop we all used to gauge our health. You know, the stuff of life, literally. Because dead people don’t poop.

Fourth-Nobody asks for payment up front. In the US renting a car or a boat requires documentation, credit, skill tests, retinal scans, and a the donation of a few stem cells. In Greece, renting a piece of equipment simply requires finding the shop keeper. They’re illusive. The store hours posted on their office doors mean nothing. Their price lists are nonexistent. And, they won’t take any money up front. “Pay me later. It’s the blue one on the end.”

Keys in hand our husbands would wander over to the boat they assumed was the one assigned to us and then insert the key to start the motor. If the engine turned over, they knew they had the right vessel.

“Pay me later.” Was the phrase we had to get used to. In the beginning we would insist on leaving a deposit, our credit card and presented a series of laminated cards qualifying us as responsible and skilled boaters. The owners didn’t care. In fact they were annoyed. They’re dead faces said “Take the damn keys. Can’t you see I’m busy?”

Over and over we failed to notice that we were doing business at a café table in the middle of the morning while the boat-rental proprietor was enjoying his morning cappuccino. No where was there a credit card swipper or imprint machine, a rental agreement or even a pen or pencil to at least jot down our names. So, although it made us squirm “Pay me later. It’s the blue one on the end” became our rental contract. At first it was weird but later it just felt like they trusted us, and that started to feel pretty good. Also, we assumed that they had some sort of collection method that involved cement shoes. We just went with it and made sure we paid them later.

Fifth-The Austrians. For weeks we had been ignored by the Greeks. Straight-faced and to the point the Greeks were formal in their dealings with us. Even the trusting boat rental guy was limited in his discourse seeming totally uninterested in where we were from or whether we were having a good time on his island. No Greeks volunteered insider information on the best restaurant, private beach or tasty local wine. When we asked for such info they just looked at us sternly and waited for us to stop talking so they could ring us up. “Stick to the plan” was their motto.

One night, toward the end of our trip we were having dinner at Bougainvillea, a ten-table restaurant in old Corfu Town. Half way through dinner a man at a six-top next to us put his finger in the air and shouted “American?” We turned to see six heads smiling and peering in our direction. “Yes.” I shouted back, “American.” To which I received a spunky one word response of “Schwartzeneger!” Apparently, this reference was not limited to the Greeks.

After a lul in the conversation at our table the guy shouted again. This time he made a declaration about himself and his table “Austrian!” he said making a swirling motion with his pointer finger, indicating that they were all Austrian.

“Yes. Austrian!” I hollered giving him the thumbs up. I could see him scanning his database for other words I might recognize.

At any other time his volunteering would have been annoying. But we were desperate for some good old surface chit-chat. The kind the Greeks hate but American thrive on. Americans are the friendliest people on earth. Chit-chat with strangers is our specialty. And we were in withdrawal. So, on our way out we stopped at the Austrian table and exchanged a lengthy stilted conversation consisting of unrelated one word sentences and lots of nodding and smiling.

We spanned topics ranging from a tall mountain to a bridge, Schwartzeneger, fast car and a nice place. None of it made a lick of sense and we didn’t care. We just felt relieved to luxuriate in some pointing and smiling, some light weight chit-chat and some small sense that we were important or interesting enough to talk to. As we walked back to the apartment and after a few moments of silent reflection on what had just happened, we all said the same thing: “Wow, they were sweet. I think the friendliest people in Greece are the Austrians.”

Friday, July 07, 2006

Any Chance Of Getting Downgraded?

Before I write about my trip to Greece, let me talk about my trip to New York a few months ago. And when I say trip, I mean the actual transit. Not the time I spent in New York. Put your tray-tables and your seat-backs in their full upright and locked position and read on...

There's a strange twinge of sweet arrogance and embarrassment in Business class.

My mom and I flew to JFK from SFO a few months ago and, in order to spoil my mom, I spent some airline points and upgraded us to business class. Half way though the flight the purser, the gayest man I'd ever seen, complete with a pair of pin on wings, decided we were his friends.

Early in the flight my mother began her Business Class indulgence. She was like a kid left alone with a tray of cup-cakes. Trying to be polite, a child will only help herself to one cup-cake. But restraint usually proves to be too much to handle and so she'll eat another. And then another. Soon she'll be on the floor covered in chocolate exhausted and sugar-shocked from her rabid and possessed moment alone with the cup-cakes. Panting and red in the eyes the child will eventually require some sort of first-aid or parental intervention.

My mother started her cup-cake whirlwind by simply fidgeting in her barcalounger of a seat hoping that she could get a little of what she was looking at. Wide-eyed she scanned all of the business class goings-on to figure out if she could have Champagne too- or was it just for the other more important people?

Finally a flute with bubbly magic was passed her way.

"Ya know it's my first time in Business Class." My mother would say every time the flight attendant offered her anything to make our flight more "comfortable." Which in airline speak means "more drunk."

Champagne? Hot towel? Juice? Warm nuts? Catheter? My mother's answers were "YES. YES. YES. YES AND YES!" much like the scene in When Harry Met Sally where Sally fakes the big O. Coincidentally, my mother's first name is Sally.

Pretty soon my mom looked like a recovering spine surgery patient, reclined, half stoned, covered with a blanket and surrounded by half eaten treats and plastic cups filled with various business class concoctions. Her seating area was a medicine cabinet filled with soothing substances not yet controlled by the feds.

So the wing-man came over, kneeled down and helped himself to my arm rest. "So I hear this is your first time in business class" Were we that obvious? "I'm Chad, your purser. Ohmigohd, are you just having a blast?" and so the monologue began. We heard about his apartment on the East Side, his house in Florida, the dinner he was going to have with "oh what's-her-name on that cooking show. Anyway she's really popular right now." We heard about his love of water sports and how celebs who fly his rout are "just like normal people."

At first I felt special (my mom was on the moon, she was eating it like wedding cake) but after a few minutes I felt the corners of my mouth get tired. Holding that smile while he monologued was getting exhausting. At the summon of a fellow flight attendant, he finally he left. But not for long. He had, in his mind, adopted my mom and he was going to make the rest of the flight the ride of her life.

He brought us more drinks, played some entertaining tricks on us, made back-handed sarcastic compliments to me while he attempted to elevate my mother's status. He was teasing in a hip urban gay way but it began to get annoying. My mom got extra cookies, a pat on the head when ever he walked by, a wink here and there, and soon I was checking over my shoulder to see what was going on in coach. I found myself longing for the anonymous existence of economy class.

Coach Flight Attendants are mean, wicked air police who pitch peanuts at you like they're warming up for their big league debut. If there were an Olympic event in Eye-Rolling they'd all be medaled. They're counting down the days until they can walk from "this crap job" and into pension heaven. And they're doubly PO'd because, due to airline bankruptcy, union contract changes and cutbacks, that heaven is getting smaller by the minute. They're one step above DMV clerks. They're under-worked, overpaid, impossible to fire, and they're taking it out on us.

And then there's Chad, our purser.

Chad started his airline career when he was seven years old. He got his when the gettin' was good. He was pirky, skinny and made money in the real estate market so his job "is just for fun."His skin was milky white on is boney little hands and just tan enough on his slender little face. He was tall and his eyes were grey-blue and deep in his head. He was like a combo of a male Cher and that guy who hosted the most recent version of America's Funniest Home Videos. His teeth were so white they appeared to be three-times their natural size. His svelt frame made his purser suit look great on him, not awkward and ill-fitting like the rest for the crew. He had better shoes than anyone on the plane and he loved to give you a little slap with a manicured hand and say "noimjusskiddin" after he insulted you with some kind of backward compliment. And then he'd take back his "noimjusskiddin" with an eye-roll leaving you confused at his initial intention of his compliment and curious about the next one. I think he taught the girls in steerage. They just used it to be mean, Chad used it as theatre.

And the show went on. My mother, in a total haze, continued to remain enthralled.

As she became progressively more in love with Chad, her new gay-mate, I became progressively more annoyed. Okay, we get it. You're cute and you've made my mom's day. Now go luxuriate someone else. We've seen all we can handle. The law of diminishing returns is kicking in. Really, we'll be fine without you.

The longer the extra-super-special attention went on the more embarrassed I got. I felt more like an idiot than a first class traveler. Oh Chaddy-Waddy, me need help go peepee too, can take me go potty?

I just wanted back into the anonymous clan of Travelocity patrons. Give me coach, give me dignity, give me salty peanuts and a mini can of un-branded cola. Give me peace.