6 hours ahead to 3 hours behind

On Woensdag (Wednesday), we left Amsterdam for Reno. Well, we attempted to leave Amsterdam for Reno. The daily Usairways flight from AMS to PHL was full and rather than roll the dice on one flight we figured a safer bet would be to roll the dice on two relatively full flights out of Frankfurt. And if we didn't make these flights? Hey, we get to spend the night in Germany! Fortunately, we had three days to meet my folks and grandparents in Reno. This was Wednesday and we were to meet them Friday.  We bought two tickets on the ICE train to Germany. It's a highspeed train that tops out at 175MPH between cities! Although the room we were in held six, we only shared it with one lady who played Sudoku in German. Sudoku is the international language of road warriors.

ice train

Upon arrival in Frankfurt, we only had an hour before the first of our two options for the states so we sprinted straight for the ticket counter. This flight was to Charlotte and from there we had a few options to get to Phoenix and then off to Reno.

I didn't have to understand German to know the agent wasn't happy about us showing up an hour before departure for an international flight. I'm bearded with a backpack, smiling telling her, "Today, tomorrow, next week. Whenever. No stress." 

"Run!" She says. "You may make it."

So much for pleasantries.

At security I got manhandled. I should have paid him for the attention he gave me. Security was both fast and friendly and done at the gate so the line was short. (The boarding was nearly finished so there was no line.)

airbus 330

We were the second from the last of the free loaders to get on and sat separate from each other which was unfortunate because typically I get the meaty portions of Susan's meal. My seat mate didn't seem too interested in abliging me in my coachclass habits. "You gonna eat your fat?"

Landed in CLT and I made the command decision to call it a day and spend the night in a hotel. The Phoenix flights were full - as were the connecting flights to Reno and rather than spend all day cramped in a plane, we'd rest and try again in the morning. I called the same hotel we stay at with the airline since it has several nasty food options within a walk that all sounded pretty good after a day of traveling - Waffle house, Cracker Barrel and some sloppy buffet place with squeaky green beans and overly buttered rolls.

Looking at the next days flight options, the most open westbound flight was an early San Francisco flight that would get us in at 9am PT. We could spend the day in San Francisco and then take an early morning Gotobus to Reno for $30 each. We found this option after Googling, "bus Reno from San Francisco".

gotobus

And this is where we are now... hours from the bus ride to Reno! The bus caters to the casino crowd and with a few extra bucks you can buy some chips for Harrah's and get a free steak. Since the bus leaves from Chinatown, I'm hoping it's full of aging chinese ladies off for a day at the casino. And us, two weary travelers with bulging backpacks and well used ipods.

My childhood "Boy named Sue" moment

This is a girls shirt!

In grade school we wore navy blue pants and white dress shirts. The boys had triangular collars while the girls wore the rounded ones that little Catholic school girls wear. There was an unfortunate era when my sister and I wore the same size shirt even though we were two years apart. And, of course, there was that day. One of the days that sticks with you forever and came back to me the other day when i was trying on used sweaters at an outdoor market in Amsterdam.

"This is a girls sweater." I said to Susan.

"Oh no it's not. It looks good on you." She answered.

"Irrelevant how it looks, the buttons are on the wrong side."

Back to grade school. The unlucky day must have been around 5th grade and it was made clear to me by my teacher that I was wearing a girls shirt. She asked, of course, in front of the class. "Are you wearing your sisters clothes?"

The class turned and errupted in laughter.

"Stork-dorks wearing a girls shirt!"

So my question is this, was it I who was half asleep while dressing watching Woody Woodpecker or was it my father who was half asleep while he ironed our shirts that morning. Where were the parental checks and balances to sound the buzzer for these things? Was this just a "boy named sue" moment in which my father tested me on how I would handle the rigors of manhood? The only thing it has taught me is to pay extra notice as to which side the buttons are and what shape the collar is.

I've got a bike - you can ride it if you like

We spent the day peddling around Amsterdam... the first sunny day since we've been here. The houseboat comes with two bikes and we set out this morning to first see the De Hortus Botanicus Amsterdam and then ride around town some. The Botanical Garden was suprisingly close to our neighborhood by bike... but after a day of peddling, we found that most things are pretty close! (More on the gardens in another post, as well as our trip to the Tropenmuseum yesterday.) Although the gardens were beautiful and the butterfly house was awesome, I had the most fun just riding around and acting Dutch. With ipod in and proper hand signals given for turns, I did my best to keep with the flow through town. Each road has bike lanes on either side as well as traffic lights for bikers alongside the lights for foot traffic.

One of our favorite neighborhoods in Amsterdam is Jordan (yor-Dahn). We peddled there for groceries even though there are several markets near the boat. We bought our dinner on the other side of town so we could fit in more with the locals as we peddled with groceries strapped to the bike. The Dutch are born with impeccable balance. We rode behind an older man with what appeared to be a musical instrument strapped to his back, several bags on his sides and a fifty pound dog in the front basket. Amazingly, he still had the dexterity to use a free hand to tip his hat at friends!

After navigating through the congestion today, it gives me a great appreciation for the parents I see with kids strapped to their bikes and groceries on their backs. We had some trouble near the end of the ride just getting going from a stop. Imagine the bikers we'd pass that have piggybackers riding side saddle on the rear tire?

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!

Assimilation

The whole houseboat is IKEA! We're in a neighborhood a bit outside of Central Amsterdam. Although it's only a 30 min walk or an easy tram or bus ride into the center of it all, we are far enough away to feel more local. Buying a cup of coffee yesterday down the road, a man asked, "Did you guys just move in?"

"Nope, here for three weeks though, we'll see you soon." I say

"Cope back," He answers, "We have great food."

This windmill is down the road.

 

 

Day one - Philly to Amsterdam. Departed at 6pm - landed 830am.

Our trip started in Philly thumbing our way onto an East bound flight to Amsterdam... Although there were still a few seats in the back open, we dropped a hundred bucks on the upgrades to sit up front. Awkward though as passengers walked by to they’re seats in steerage making comments about the first class 'accommodations.' 

"Could you imagine spending a thousand dollars more to sit up here?" They didn't know about the desert choices.

I kept reading my complimentary copy "Forbes" and laughing that we were riding for free - suckers.

While the commoners in the back were complaining about having to pay for the extra bag, I ate my duck and made to order salad. I chose the fresh cheese and croutons with the lemongrass soy dressing. The meal was surprisingly flavorful although I had already sucked down a bottle of wine. The flight attendant liked the fact we were commoners in disguise and topped us off each time.

Funny thing upon landing was that we were to check in at 4pm but got off the train at 9am. Neither of us could figure how to dial the payphone so we decided to wander around for abit until show time. (We bought a five Euro card and dialed what we though was the owners number. Each time Susan got an angry Dutch man telling us never to call again! "THIS IS A PRIVATE NUMBER" he spoke in flawless English.) Stashing our bags in a locker, we ran off to see the city and acquaint ourselves with the places we like to see more of over the next 21 days.

After several hours or roaming, the wall of fatigue hit and suddenly we were hot, tired and ready for a shower. "Lets find the houseboat... maybe it's open." We agreed.

And then the rain started. Hard rain!

We gave in and dialed out on our cell phone for the boat owner.

It's 3pm.

"I thought you'd be here earlier? The boats been open. Key under the plant."

And then it was shower, a walk to the grocery store for supplies for a few meals, dinner and bed. 

 

 

 

The summer of fun just got 'funner'

With Susan off for the summer, I 'bid' to have some weeks off with her. I was awarded 6 weeks from the end of June through early August. Being anxious to kick the summer off - I asked (and was awarded) a drop of a trip at the end of June that slides up to vacation. Now I have the last ten days of June off stretching that 6

week vacation to ten days longer! Our plans - a few days in upstate New York with her family in an area she found on the show "Cash and Treasures". Follow that with three weeks on a houseboat in Amsterdam where we plan to do nothing but relax, see some good shows and eat great food. Top that off with a week in Reno with my family running around dude ranches and the sort. And then - Still a few weeks at home in the new house!

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.

What’s on my dock

Undocked

As friends make the jump from windows to mac - I often get asked what mac apps to use? Where are some good places to get software? What's in your dock? Here is what is currently in my dock... some programs I use often - others I recently downloaded and need them visable so I remember to try them out. Most are free... I left out the standards "I" Programs. Itunes and whatnot.

My Dock

  • djay - Uses Itunes tracks with two digital turntables.. not sure what to do with it. But's it's fun to play with. Now I really have two turntables and a microphone.
  • quicksilver - A quick app launcher. the precurser to 'spotlight'. It works much faster than spotlight and has many plugins to make the program dig deeper into your computer. It searches bookmarks and address book entries as well as Ichat logs.
  • appzaper - They had it free one day. It's a great way to delete apps and makes a cool sound when deleting. Like uninstall for windows in that it deletes many of the leftover pieces of the programs when you zap.
  • Flame - Shows what services are being offered by computers on your network.
  • bluecoconut - Allows you to 'borrow' music from shared itunes libraries on local networks. Fun to use in airports when you see dozens of libraries. I like to walk around and try and identify the human with their playlist. Of all the libraries I've 'browsed'... regardless of how obscure or common - EVERYONE has The Beatles and Eminem.
  • senuti - Takes music from you ipod back to mac. itunes <> senuti.
  • vlc - A great media player. Plays most formats.
  • azureus - A bit torrent client. I like the RSS plugin that downloads recently posted torrents in the genre's you assign.
  • firefox - Webbrowser with many user created themes/plugins to enhance your browsing. The plugins I use most - All-in-one sidebar, Bigmenot, Del.icio.us, dictionary search, Digg This, Downloadthemall, Flashgot, Forecastfox, Foxytunes, Google Calendar Quick Add, Greesemonkey, IE View, PDF download, ReloadEvery, Stop-or-Reload Button, TrackmeBot, VideoDownloader.
  • istumbler - Finds hotspots.
  • vienna - Free newsreader.
  • google earth - Earth through the eyes of Google.
  • stellarium - Planetarium software that shows exactly what you see when you look up at the stars.
  • celestia - The free space simulation that lets you explore our universe in three dimensions.
  • skype - Free voice over IP client.
  • fire - A great instant messanger client.
  • second life - Virtual reality second world.
  • renamer4mac - Allows you to easily rename items in bulk.
  • deliciouslibrary - Catalog your home library. DVD's, games, books.
  • activity monitor - MenuMeters is a set of CPU, memory, disk, and network monitoring tools.
  • ipodder lemon - Podcatcher sometimes called 'juice'.

Menubar items

  • Todos - This is great program for launching, finding apps. It shows all apps on your mac by icon.
  • pod2go - Puts news and gas prices and weather and email on your ipod. audioscrobbler - Stats for itunes. Builds charts on your listening habits and shows 'friends' who have similiar listening habits. slimbatterymonitor - Replaces your battery icon with one that is a little more customizable. alarmclock2 - Wake up to itunes playlists.

I use http://del.icio.us to save my bookmarks online. The sites I've saved with the "TAG" mac are here. Most are lists like this one of mac software. http://del.icio.us/stork123/mac

LOST AND FOUND POETRY AT 37000 FEET

LOST AND FOUND POETRY AT 37000 FEET I took a walk to the back of the plane in flight today to pee. This is something I try not to do too often and is called the "Walk of Shame" for good reason. First of all, it requires getting up. This after sitting for so long strapped to an airplane is pretty tough to do. Not because of muscle atrophy or sleeping blood vessles but because you get so damned lazy and lethargic. To make the trip though, you have to get a crewmember up front to fill your seat while you are gone. The doors are bullet-proof now and they figure it's best not to have one guy locked up front by themselves with the other i the back. They always want two bodies up front at all times so if one passes out dead and the other can still open the door. The ackwardness of leaving the cockpit and walking by all the folks with them wondering who in the hell is flying the plane is the big reason why I don't care too much for taking the 'Walk of Shame'. But today was going to be that day and my bladder just wasn't holding out like it should. I readied my tie and did the best to fix my hair looking at it in the sunvisor and gathered my thoughts. I had the flight attendant by the door ready to take my seat. She would strap into the Captains seat while I made my way to the toilet seat. We made the hand off and I made sure she didn't hit her head on any red handles. I made my way back. I smiled at the kids and winked at the old ladies. All was well until I was making my way back to my office and a mom asked if i would talk to her son of five or so. "Hello buddy." I said. "Will you give me your autograph?" He said as he thrust a little notebook into my hand. I didn't know what to write. I'm typically pretty quick on my feet but the little guy caught me off guard. Maybe this was his first flight? Maybe he dreams of being a pilot? Maybe this will become a cherished keepsake? "Be Good" I wrote with my cheap hotel pen and signed my name. I've never signed anything Captain before. I nodded to the mom and hurried off to take my seat back. To get back into my element and give the cabin back the professional customer service rep. I told her what I did and what I wrote and she guessed I didn't have kids of my own. Back in my seat thousands of more appropriate one liners came to mind. Witty flying puns that we hear all the time. Couldn't I have written "Keep the blue side up" or "From the friendly skies, your Captain"? No? I had to tell the kid to "Be Good". But I had a great thought. A thought that got me through the flight as I strapped back in and let my limbs fall asleep and atrophy back in the seat. What if he goes on to be a pilot? What if he does carry that slip with him through flight school? What if he goes on to fly the first shuttle mission to Mars and becomes a Global Hero? Maybe he would use my line as his catch phrase? Maybe he would tour the world and on a global mission of peace. "All I ever wanted to be do was fly planes and Be Good!"