But They Do Have Free Breakfast

hotelbreakfast
hotelbreakfast

When I was a young airline pilot and new to ‘the road’ I ranked hotels by their proximity to good food and entertainment. Now, I judge hotels on two things: internet speed and shower pressure.

Oh, and free breakfast.

I’m not even a breakfast guy. But when it’s free – I’m a kid in a carb filled candy store. I pirouette around the kids begging their parents for another ‘home-made’ waffle with my tray of stale bagels, English muffins and knock-off Cheerios (Crunchy O’s, for the record). I feel like a malnourished Fred Astaire with a bowl of generic biscuits and gravy dancing to CNN Headline News.

Some hotel meals are better than others. Some are simply offering something so they can entice the road warriors. This way they can add another checkmark on Hotels.com along with “In room safe” and “Fitness Room”.

At least they can say they have a gym.

I stayed at a hotel once that had a bagged loaf of bread next to a toaster with a tub of butter and a communal jar of jelly by its side. Jelly is so much more filling when a knife full has bread crumbs and chunks of butter from the last freeloader mixed in. But hey, it was free and I passed the solitary knife to the pilot to my left when I was done and recognized the Stockholm Syndrome look in his eyes. I said, “Here you go Patty Hearst.”

People who aren’t in the industry always assume our life is like a vacation won on Price Is Right. “Oh, you’re going to Chicago?! You need to go downtown and have a pizza at Gino’s East and then take a stroll down the famed Magnificent Mile.”

Let me tell you what that involves. First of all… we often don’t have that much time. Often twelve hours in the hotel in which some of that should be for legitimate rest. So let’s say four hours in the hotel. Subtract getting ready in the morning and washing the funk from the airplane off you when you get to the room. Two hours remain. We typically stay near the airport which is rarely near anything unique to that city. So now it’s a cab ride for this pizza… a roundtrip cab ride that’s thirty minutes each way. We’re looking at a fifty dollar pizza that has to be sucked down so you can get back to the hotel in order to wake up early enough to enjoy free breakfast in the morning.

Typically dinner is at another American chain restaurant that is within walking distance to the hotel. And regardless what State we are in, we can look out the window of that restaurant and see a Bed Bath and Beyond, a Wall-Mart or a Home Depot. “Anytown USA”. These restaurantvilles are the evolution of the truck stop. And before that they were the saloons the pony express riders would stop in to share stories from the road.

“Oh, you’re riding west through the Nebraska Territory? Don’t stop in Omaha. They don’t have free breakfast.”

Even though it's overcast and rainy - it's so green. Our 3 weeks in Amsterdam

Maybe it's because I understand about one word in one hundred here (often it's not the sexual reference I think), but there is much less talk about protecting the environment and much more action here in Holland. Each day I see something else that seems so simple but in the US it would be revolutionary. Like all the other quick fixes (personal debt, weightloss, hair growth), we Americans obviously look for the magic bullet rather than lots of small fixes for the greater good.

  • Bikes, obviously. America spent billions building the interstates in the 50's. Damn near every road in Amsterdam has a bike path attached to it. Old, young and rain or shine - people are out peddling around. How refreshing it is to see an old man peddling to work chewing gum and whistling... How bad could your day be knowing that you get to ride your bike home?
  • Toilets with a flusher for number one and a flusher for number two. Although, I tossed a few spiders in the WC and wasn't sure where they fit it... To be sure, I hit number 2. "Shock and Awe" bitches.
  • Walking by stores, I wonder if they are open... its dark in there. It's dark by our standards. Sure those spiral fluorescent lights are greener - but these guys just don't use lights unless need be! How easy is that? Granted, this time of year its bright out from 5am to 10pm. They may burn seal oil day and night come winter?
  • Much smaller trash cans? Maybe it's the houseboat neighborhood here but everyone has much smaller trash cans outside? Do they use less prepackaged foods and eat more local produce? Do they burn the garbage in the oven or throw it in the canal? Either way, i thining about the amount of trash we produce and what we can do to re-use.
  • Everyone brings their own bags to the market or uses shared bags that other shoppers drop off in a bin. Rather than springing for the Trader Joes branded bags advertising how 'green' we are... we need to just use a sack.

Now, Susan and I just need to take what we've seen here and try and implement more into our routine at home. All I know for sure is I can't wait to build the disco shower from here on the boat at home. Which will mean 20 min showers under stobes on a nightly bases! But I'll be sure to hit the one flusher after number one!

The accidental peacemaker

I often watch in amazement as gate agents in airports can so blatantly blow off our passengers in the their time of need. I know there are plenty of times there is nothing they can do to rectify the situation but I'm sure a little compassion would make the hard news easier to swallow. And often its just information that a person needs to make them understand the situation. I watched this Sunday as the computer meltdown of 2007 (so USA Today called it) took place at DCA. This was the day the Usairways/America West computer systems were to merge. We had been warned for weeks it could get ugly at the gates with agents checking people in. Most of the day Kiosks were wrong and passengers were left having to rely on the agents to offer them information on what gate they should be at. The same agents who were bogged down trying to print up our flight releases and check in passengers using a system they didn't seem to understand. Things spiraled out of control pretty quick in a few situations and I tried to step in to mediate the peace.

In one case a lady panicked and ran up to the gate as the jetway was pulling from the plane. She had been at the wrong gate and needed to get on this plane. She pounded on the glass asking if anyone could help but the agent was out on the jetway driving back. I walked up to ask what I could do as the people in the gate area watched. I had been talking with most of these people about the situation with the computers and was doing my best to offer assistance. They saw me tell her I'd go find another agent to see if the flight was closed.

I walked around the corner to ask and the answer was simple, "The plane as left, she needs to go to special services." The line there was longer than the girls line for the bathroom at Lilith Fair.

When I walked back in the gate area there was pandemonium! The gate was pulling back to the plane and the aircraft door was opening! The stranded passenger was jumping for joy and all the passengers were applauding me when I approached. "Oh - thank you - thank you - thank you!" She screamed and hugged me and when the door opened she pleaded to the gate agent if she could on.

And she let her! Hardly a question asked. Apparently there was a passenger on the plane who boarded the wrong flight and they had pulled back up to get her off. One passenger got on, one got off. It was a quick fix and the plane was on its way.

When I turned back to our gate full of people they all cheered for me and said how helpful I was! I had to tell them I did nothing to make that happen and it was pure luck. They thought I was being humble and modest and I let it go at that.

I'm thankful for warm lemonaide and chicken.

Somalia

A four-day trip the week of Thanksgiving took me to Columbus, Ohio. Seeing as I was to spend the holiday alone in the hotel, Susan decided to drive up from visiting her Grandparents in Pittsburg. She had our cousin Troy with her so we figured we'd play in Ohio for the night and let him see what a glamorous life in a hotel is like. A friend in Columbus was going to take out for dinner until the 'what do you plan to do for dinner' conversation started up in the cockpit with my first officer. He also had some friends in Columbus and said he planned on meeting up with them for dinner. My co-pilot was from Uganda and the friends he mentioned were also from Eastern Africa and they planned on eating at a Somalian restaurant he knew about that served goat. I could think of no better way to celebrate the holiday than with my vegetarian wife, some goat and a bunch of Africans. I asked if we could join them and did we need to wear anything special. Our other friend in Columbus was up for the plan would meet us at the hotel.

The restaurant was advertised as a ‘coffee shop’ on the outside and looked like more of an old butcher shop. The parking lot was quiet and there wasn’t much in the way of foot traffic in or out of the place. In we went.

Aside from a few people scattered about there wasn’t much going on inside – nor was there much in the way of decorations. Just a relatively empty room with some standard diner-like tables and chairs. It did look like it could have been an old butcher shop. Pointing to Susan, the owner asked if I wanted the lady to sit with us or ‘over there’ looking to the section of restaurant on the other side of the dividing wall?

Apparently this was a women sit away from the men type establishment. I did think for a second that I wanted to sit with the ladies but figured just asking if Susan could sit with us would be a stretch. He said here in the United States he let the decision be made by the man of the family but back things weren't this way. So the only white girl in the restaurant ate in the men’s section with us. She did drive most the day to have Thanksgiving with us and making her sit with women would go over about as well as if I asked to sit over there. Looking at the dividing wall did make me wonder what was going on back there. It took me back to grade school and all the stories about what went on behind the wall near the convent. "I hear the nuns have a pool back there and they all were black bikini's."

The menu was delivered in his terms, “high talk and low tech”. He gave us the options personally. “Chicken steak with rice.” “Chicken steak with spaghetti.” “Salmon steak with rice.” “Salmon steak with spaghetti.”

Susan asked if there were any vegetarian dishes? “We have lettuce.” “No goat?” I asked. "We sold all the goat today already. The chicken steak is very good though.”

We all ordered the lemonade, which he said several times was made fresh. “It is Somalian lemonade.” He said, again.

I’ll tell you what that means. Anytime a drink is served “Somalian” it is served warm. We learned there isn’t much ice in Africa. My first officer told us when he went home to Uganda they all accused him of being an American after he kept insisting on having ice in his drinks. This is one of the many reasons why we are spoiled. That and Tivo.

And then came the banana’s. Again, my first officer explained.

“They are crazy about banana’s there. You get them with everything. And they are better there. They are fresher. You don’t eat them until they are ready and you don’t pick them too soon. You know you are a Somalian when you eat too many banana’s.”

Although there weren't any yams or turkey sandwich’s, it was what Thanksgiving should be, dinner with friends old and new. We learned about life in Africa from actual Africans and heard their stories of immigrating to the United States. After dinner, one of the men invited us back to his house for some Sudanese tea with his family. We met his children and played with their babies. They took us in to their house for our holiday. Again, it was a great thanksgiving.

I was just a guy on a plane

As I made my way down the aisle yesterday for my flight back from Tampa I saw two kids sitting in the row I was to take. They had the aisle and middle seat - I was to sit by the window where a bald baby doll was strapped in. The mom was in the aisle ordering them to behave themselves and not to bother anyone and that she would be just across the aisle watching them! I asked if she'd rather sit with her kids and she pointed to a third child strapped into the seat next to where she'd be. So I was with two kids on one side of the aisle while she'd be on the other side with her other one. Between us though was a Korean man who apparently spoke no English and was disinterested in making a better seating arrangement for all of us. I made small talk with the four year old girl to my left. Well, I accepted her invite for small talk. We'd chat and I'd answer questions about why I wore glasses and what I had for breakfast and then I watch her get scolded for talking to the 'nice man next to you!'

We'd sit in silence for 30 seconds and then she'd start in again. I was having no trouble talking to her and was enjoying myself but every few minutes or so her mom would scold her and even went as far as to offer money to her if she stopped. (Later she did give her a daughter a dollar. When her mom turned away, she split it with me by ripping it in half and saying I was talking too.)

What to do?

Ignore the child and be rude or talk and get her in trouble?

She asked me to help her with her homework.

"What do I do on this page?" She asked pointing to a cartoonish page of 1800's America.

"Draw a circle around the things that don't belong in the picture of old timey times." I said running my finger across the words.

She circled the dad and told me they didn't have dads in old times. She circled the dog and said they didn't have pets. She circled the wheel chair and said they didn't have those either. For this one I had to think though. It was a modern chair but they must have had some sort of wheel chair.

"Argue with the teacher if she marks that wrong." I told her.

When she missed the airplane up top I asked her what that was.

"An airplane, dummy! Like the one we are on!" She said.

"They didn't have those back then." I told her.

"Of course they did! What if they wanted to go see their family or go to another city?"

"They rode horses." I told her. "Or horse and carriages."

"No they didn't!" She rebutted. "They put their horses on the plane! They left the carriages behind."

I let her think that... I was just a guy on a plane.

I pointed to the light outside the barn in the picture. "And what about that."

"Did they have lights?" She asked out loud. "Of course they had lights." She answered out loud. "Without lights they wouldn't have seen the little baby Jesus."

It was September and she was referencing the little baby Jesus.

"Don't you think they used candles?" I asked.

"Of course not. They didn't have birthday cakes then. Candles are for birthday cakes. You don't get a cake when you are born only when you are one."

How to argue with that? Again, I was just a guy on a plane.

And it only cost a quarter

And It Only Cost a Quarter

It was a Jesuit, shirt and tie, all guys’ high school. Everyone drove to school or had a ride. I rode the city bus. “H.A.R.T. Line” was the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Association. They had a big red heart for a logo. Most were faded to a semi-brown heart that looked more like the ones on anti-smoking ads. The buses were smoke-free although smoking may have been a welcome relief to mask the random odors floating through the cabin. Looking back I think the decision to send the boy home on the bus was a character builder. Maybe it was a message to do well in school. But with transportation only a quarter from school on a student pass, how could a parent go wrong?

The driver on bus number 7 was Richard Diggs. Dick Diggs we called him. I met Diggs the first day my dad dropped me off. I boarded armed with a quarter and my newly pressed Jesuit shirt and tie. Although I wasn’t the only wearing a hat I was the only one wearing a beanie. “That some kinda Jewish hat you got there, son?” Diggs asked.

I told him it was something we had to wear as freshman and it was tradition and we could burn it at a homecoming bonfire in a few months but he didn’t care too much about the details. He was all business. In the future when I realized I only had to wear my beanie on campus he’d asked, “Where’s that funny looking Jewish hat, Son. Shouldn’t you be wearing that hat?” He’d continue on the address system as I took my seat. “I think you may have left your hat at home, Son. You want I should turn around so you can get that funny little Jewish hat of yours?”

Unbeknownst to me, my father followed Diggs that first day to map out the route and see how long it’d take to get to school. I guess he followed a few cars back so as not to alarm Diggs. The plan didn’t work. Again, this driver was all business. Soon I noticed the bus taking evasive actions. Charging through yellow lights and making quick lane changes. Passengers would bounce free from their seats with each abrupt turn causing them to inadvertently hit the “Next stop” button. Each lane change was met with a “Ding – Stop Requested” followed by Diggs yelling, “Is that a real stop or someone hittin’ that button?”

Another sharp left and another “Ding – Stop Requested.” “Just trying to lose this Jack in a white Blazer truck!” Mr. business Diggs yelled. “I think I gotta white guy tailing us!”

“Ding – Stop Requested.”

I turned, aided by the bus’ momentum, and saw my dad a few cars back. Although his car was more agile than the city bus it didn’t possess the guts behind the wheel that we had. We were successfully pulling away. “Woah!” I yelled up from the back of the bus. “That’s my dad.”

The words bounced off each passenger on the way up to Diggs causing each to turn their head as they grasped the meaning behind my yell. Some translated the words faster and turned faster but overall it was a wave a twisting bodies starting from me and progressing to the front.

“What kind of kid are you who’s gotta dad has gotta follow you on the bus?” The lady next to me asked, “If your dad is going the same way why didn’t you save your quarter and maybe stop as McDonalds too?”

“This is my first time on the bus. I guess he just wanted to make sure I got to where I’m going?”

“It ain’t that hard.” She reasoned. “You pay your money and get on. You push the button when you want to get off. Simple as that. Pay to get on… push to get off.”

“I understand. I guess he just wanted to see how long it took.”

“All you gotta do is read the map.” She said. “ It tells you how long each bus takes. It even tells you what time they leave. What time it goes and what time it stops. Simple as that.”

“Yes, I know. I guess he just wanted to see for himself.”

“He could have scene it for himself on the paper there. Simple as that. I’ve been riding the bus for years and never had no trouble. Always on time. Always running on time. You should just push the button now and get in with your dad since he’s going the same way. Maybe he can stop off and get you some McDonalds.”

I soon learned that this is what I was paying my quarter for… the experiences. Some of them I’d offer fifty cents for if I had to do it over again.

One of the stops along the way home each day was at a K-Mart. It was a transfer spot where people would often switch busses. It was an intersection in the routes where you could get a transfer ticket and jump to a different route.

There was a day when a rather large black woman got on at the K-Mart stop. She had just done some shopping while waiting for the bus and came on board with all her bags. She was wearing typical H.A.R.T. Line summer attire… a single, large moo-moo. While maybe this fashion has its roots in Hawaii as beachwear it has made its home surrounding the fatty flesh of women across America. It’s looks like nothing more than a non-fitted one-piece bed sheet fashioned into a dress. A kids ghost costume with a hole for the head and arms.

She sat directly across from me in the seat clearly labeled “Reserved for Handicapped Riders” and even was able to harness herself in using the safety straps for wheelchairs. I watched her fumble through her bags. I played with my beanie to look busy. She pulled out a can of generic aerosol deodorant. She shook it up to get maximum spray. Armed with the can she reached up though her legs, under her moo-moo and aimed the can up from about belly level. She fired. She continued to fire. In all, she shot deodorant for about thirty seconds.

It emanated from every hole of her non-fitted bed sheet. It gushed from her armpit holes hiding her meaty arms in a fog of unscented aerosol. It rose from her neck hole like Old Faithful. It soon crept out from the same opening she took aim from dropping to the floor like a fog machine in a carnival haunted house.

Waiting for the air to clear I wondered if the same women would be there when the show was over? Maybe she was a superhero and this was her guise used during the transformation? Maybe she’d come out as a wonder-twin in a leather suit or a crime-fighting robot?

Unfortunately, when the air did clear it was the same rather large black woman that joined us at K-Mart albeit better smelling. As if to answer my puzzled look she explained, “Sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do.”

That piece of wisdom only cost me a quarter.