Monday, May 9, 2011
Saturday, January 31, 2009
So on Saturday I had an interview at UCLA, for their teaching credential/Masters in Education program.
On Friday I picked up my suit from the dry-cleaners and drove down from San Francisco, listening to music and NPR and then just silence as I battled rain and the realization that my windshield wipers don’t work the whole way down the five.
I pulled up to my sisters’ house in LA around nine at night, and tried to gather as many things as I could before I left my car, as I didn’t want to have to come back to pick anything up.
I promptly dropped my suit in a mud puddle.
A big one.
I swore and scooped it up and dropped my cell phone in the process.
There was a lot more swearing and I picked that up too (it had missed the puddle, thank god) and locked my car and headed in to my sister’s place.
I told her about the suit dropping in the puddle. “This is the worst interview, ever,” I told her in a high voice.
The night was uneventful and mellow and we went to bed early. Kate and Spencer got up to go to the local farmers’ market. I waved goodbye from the comfort of my air mattress and then took my time getting ready.
My interview started at 1pm, and Google figured that it was going to be a half hour drive to Westwood. I decided that I’d leave the house by 11:45, which would give me a lot of time to get lost on the UCLA campus.
I took a shower.
I put on a nice blue shirt and my suit.
I brushed all the dried mud off the suit.
Didn’t look so bad, really.
I had to make sure that I had everything I needed for my interview before I left the house, as the plan was for me to lock the house behind me. I checked my pockets. I had my cell phone (not broken). I had my wallet. I didn’t need my keys.
Oh crap – my dress shoes.
I dug them out of my backpack, and realized that I had left my socks in my car. I put on some flip flips, grabbed the dress shoes, and left the house.
11:45 on the dot.
This was very un-Robbie like, so I congratulated myself the whole way down the bloc to my car.
Which wasn’t there.
I sort of stood there, looking at the spot that it should have sat in. My mind sort of blanked for a second. Huh.
I wandered around the street for a while, looking, but in the back of my head I knew.
My car had been there the last time I saw it, and now it wasn’t there.
I went back over to the spot. Yep, there was the puddle I dropped my suit in.
My car is gone.
I thought about going back in the house, but remembered that it was locked.
I looked at my cell phone.
I was going to miss my interview, which was the last possible one of the year for UCLA.
I called my sister.
“Hey,” I said.
“Hey,” she said.
“I think my car was stolen,” I said.
“What?” she said.
“I think my car was stolen,” I said.
“Are…are you sure?” She said. “Was it towed? Was it like blocking a driveway or something?”
“No.” I was looking at the spot. “Not blocking a driveway, not in two hour parking, nothing.”
“Oh. Well, call 911. I’m coming.”
I hung up and called 911.
They were annoyed with me, and gave me the normal LA police station number.
I was transferred to someone, who put me on hold, and I was disconnected.
Kate pulled up in her boyfriend’s car.
I hopped in and looked at my watch.
Kate started driving. “I’m going to take you to your interview,” she said. “On the way, you need to report your stolen vehicle.”
The problem was, I had no idea what my license plate number was.
Lesson Number One: Memorize your license plate number.
So I thought of ways that I could retrieve it, speeding down Sunset with my sister.
I bet it’s on the pink slip to my car!
I called my roommate. He diligently searched for a while, but couldn’t find it.
“Sorry man,” Dave said.
I called my mom, and spent a whole lot of time explaining what had happened, as you always have to do when explaining anything to your mom.
She set to searching for something that had my license plate number on it.
She decided to check the insurance information, figuring that it would be there.
Finally she came across my pink slip, with my license plate number. I searched for a pen for a while, then my sister thrust her cell phone at me, in text mode. I wrote the numbers/letters combo down, then thanked my mom and hung up.
I called the police station back. It turned out that I needed to call another department. Could I write a number down? I searched for a pen for a while, then my sister gave me the cell phone again, still in letter mode. I clicked in the number without looking at the screen, then thanked the policewoman and hung up.
I then looked at the screen, which, of course, had 10 letters in a row.
I had to decode the phone number.
I finally decoded it and called the correct police number as my sister careened wildly into a northern entrance to UCLA. I spent a while trying to guide her (as best I could) toward Moore Hall while simultaneously pressing one for English not two for espanol then finally gave up and decided I’d deal with my car later then we pulled up right in front of Moore hall and I had four minutes until my interview.
I threw on my dress shoes while my sister wiped more mud off me and then we both noticed how obvious it was that I wasn’t wearing any socks and then I shrugged and thanked her and ran inside and found a girl who told me to get in an elevator with her so I did and then ran down a hallway and walked into the interview EXACTLY ON TIME.
It was a group interview with five other girls and two interviewers and I walked quickly to the end of the circle of square tables and sat down, sweating a bit in my suit and very aware of my stark naked ankles underneath the table.
I looked around. This table was set up for ankle viewing.
They asked us to say our name, what our desired major was going to be at UCLA, and something about ourselves.
The girls before me all talked about how much they love working with children, and how well traveled they are.
I talked about my ankles, and the mysterious disappearance of my car, hoping it would be funny.
One of the interviewers coughed.
The other one wrote something down.
The next girl took her turn.
I swallowed a little bit.
The rest of the interview actually went really well. They had us read an article about having report cards that report on schools themselves, then had us discuss it. After a few minutes to wrap my head around it, I started coming up with lots of good theories, and then by the end of it felt totally in control of the group discussion (there was one other girl who really knew what she was doing, but that was it).
So that was good, but then the interview was over and another girl wished me luck on finding my car and then I walked out into the sun and thought about what I was going to do.
Well, I had to get a bus back to Kate’s house, for starters.
And I had to find my car.
I started walking to a bus station, calling various police numbers and finally reached a woman who asked me “Stolen? Or was it impounded?”
Truthfully, I wasn’t sure.
So I gave her all my various numbers and whatnot, and she told me that my car had been towed.
Your registration was expired.
Jesus. That seemed a little harsh for an expired registration.
She gave me the number of the impound. The bus arrived and I got on.
I called the impound, and a cheery guy confirmed that he had indeed towed my car, and that I needed to go to the DMV and re-register my car, then I had to go to the LA Department of Transportation with my new registration. They would give me a letter, which I could then take to the impound and get my car back.
How much is that going to cost me, I asked.
Two Hundred and fifty dollars, he told me. Plus thirty three dollars a day.
Is the DMV even open on Saturdays, I asked him.
I highly doubt it, Sir. He told me.
Which meant that I had to wait three days until I could get my car back. I.e., 99 more dollars.
I got off the bus and walked back to my sisters’ house. I had plans to go to san diego for a few days now, but that wasn’t looking so promising anymore. Well, I couldn’t go until Monday.
My sister’s boyfriend was going out to Chinese food, but I just felt…drained, and stayed home watching Americana with Kate. I felt a little better at the end of the night and went to sleep.
Kate, Spencer and I went on a big old hike on Sunday (yes, there are amazing hikes in LA! Whowouldathunkit?) where I had to wear sweat pants and my dress shoes (all my other clothes were in my car) and look fantastic but the hike was great and we had pizza and beer afterward.
On Monday I woke up at eight. I got on google and made directions first to the DMV, then to the Department of Transportation, then back to my sisters’ house. Spencer was going to lend me his car for this part.
When I got back to their house, I would take a bus out to the impound lot and get my car back, then drive it back to Kate’s house.
The first part of the plans went according…well, to plan. I drove to the DMV without hitting very much traffic. Then I saw the place.
It was the biggest, most crowded DMV I had ever been to.
I circled the parking lot for fifteen minutes looking for a spot, then gave up and parked three blocks away on a street.
I walked in and took a number.
Then I waited for an hour.
I had been prepared for this, and (warning: nerd alert) brought my Nintendo Ds with super Mario brothers.
Nothing makes me smugger than being prepared for a long waiting room experience.
As I took it out, the guy next to me shot me a glance that I decided must be full of envy for the fun I was going to be having, while he just sat there in the green plastic chairs from hell and watched the clock tick and the numbers slowly go by.
But my Nintendo battery was dead.
I sat and watched the clock tick.
My number was finally called and I went up to the front. I had to pay the DMV 200 dollars to reinstate my registration.
Ok, fine. I paid it. That wasn’t so hard.
Then she told me that I had to call an 800 number, which she was highlighting with a bright yellow marker.
Ummm…I began to sweat, knowing that the only thing that you should fear more than the DMV is calling the DMV. We’re talking being on hold for hours.
…all I had to do was call the DMV “registration re-instation station” (it wasn’t really called that, but it should have been) and they would re-instate me.
But…couldn’t we just do that here?
No, she said.
Oh, I said.
And when I had called the number, and they had told me that they could re-instate it, I could come back in, and she could print me a registration sticker.
Oh. Did I have to wait in line again?
No, she said. You can just come up to my desk again. She handed me a pile of paperwork that said “NOT AN OPERATORS’ PERMIT. INCOMPLETE.” But had a lot of info on it.
Whew, I thought. That was allright.
So I went outside and called the number on my cell phone. I was patched through to a very helpful sounding lady who took some information from me, took my credit card number (there was a fourteen dollar “re-instation fee”), and told me that I was done, and in just 72 hours they would clear me to get my registration sticker.
72 hours? From now?
Yes, she said. 72 hours.
That’s three more days, I said.
Yes, she said, not impressed by my math.
But my car was impounded on Saturday, I said. They’re charging me 33 dollars a day to keep it there.
I’m sorry, she said. It just takes 72 hours.
And there’s nothing we can do to make it somehow faster?
No, she said.
Oh, I said. Thank you, I said.
Have a nice day, she said.
I sat in the sun in the parking lot of the DMV for a while. I looked absently around me: At all the glum people around me, at the trashcan, at the sign over the trashcan that says “Identity Theft is On The Rise! Do not throw your DMV paperwork away here!” Then I called the same number again. I got a different lady, who was nicer to me at first, then got sort of angry that I didn’t understand that 72 hours is 72 hours, and then that conversation ended the same way as the first.
I sat in the sun for a while longer, then called again.
This time I was very nice to the lady, and asked her to explain why I can’t get my registration now. I was sitting in front of a DMV, and I had paid everything they asked me to.
She explained that the “re-registration service” is actually a different entity than the DMV, and when people pay the fourteen dollars, the service electronically sends a note to the DMV to update their records.
Thing is, the service sends 30,000 messages to the DMV every day.
So it takes 72 hours to catch up.
We hung up. I went back inside and walked up to the desk of the lady who I had talked to before.
I lied to her and told her that they had told me that everything was good to go, and that she could give me the stickers now.
She turned to her computer, and suddenly there was a series of gasps from all over that monstrous cavern of ill will.
Their computer network had gone down.
I wondered if it was good or bad for me that this had happened.
After fifteen minutes of waiting, then her looking at a screen and saying well that’s funny it still says you’re suspended, I decided a bad thing.
She gave me another number to call. Not the Service, but the central DMV office.
They put me on hold for a half an hour.
During this time, I went for a walk in neighboring Lincoln Park, beat boxing to the elevator music to keep myself sane. Finally, I gave up, and decided to move this operation back to Kate and Spencer’s’ house, where I could make myself some lunch.
Someone picked up right as I reached the car. I set my paperwork on top of the car and picked up the phone. We talked for a while and I explained my plight. She started to harp on the 72-hour thing, but when I mentioned that my vehicle was impounded and I was paying out the ear every day, her tone softened.
“Oh, well, tell you what, I’m going to give you a number of the main offices. You should be able to talk to someone higher up. Explain what you just did to me, and we’ll see if we can get you back up today.”
Oh my god. I opened the drivers’ side door and climbed in, scrounging around for a pen, until I remembered that this is the PENLESS CAR. Finally I said ok, I’ve got something, and then started putting the numbers in my phone, taking my ear off the receiver for three numbers at a time, until I had it written down.
I thanked this angel for a while, then we hung up.
And to those of you who ever try this little trick, putting numbers into a phone while you’re talking on that phone, make sure to hit that save button before you hit that hang up button.
It will delete whatever you wrote down.
I tried to remember it and call it a few times, but it was no avail.
I sighed. Allright, I’ll drive back to Kate and Spencer’s, make a sandwich, and have a pen and paper ready when I call that number back to get the mystery number again.
I closed the door, started the car, and drove back to Kate and Spencer’s’ house.
Spencer called me on the way – he was leaving the house, but would leave the back door open for me.
I got there a few minutes later, and went into the house. In the living room I decided that I had way too much crap in my pockets, and unloaded everything on the table. Huh, I thought. Where was all that paperwork?
I’ll bet you already know where I left the paperwork.
Yep, on the top of my car.
“IDENTITY THEFT IS ON THE RISE!”
I spent a while trying to decide how important that paperwork was. What sort of information was on it, anyway? Well, I guess that I may as well go get it, and I’ll call the DMV back on the way.
I grabbed my wireless headset on the way out the door, and called the number. The connection wasn’t so good through my headset, and so the elevator musak came and went as I drove back down the freeway. Just as I arrived back at the DMV, someone clicked through.
“Hello? Hello?” she said.
“Hello?” I said, trying to put it back on the normal phone mode.
“Hello? Hello?” She said.
“SWEET SASSY MOLASSY HELLO!” I yelled.
Well, I still need to look for that paperwork.
I looked all over the road, I checked the freeway onramp (stuff you leave on the roof is ALWAYS on the freeway onramp, or just past stop signs. Don’t ask me why I know that), nothing.
Well, I’m not so sure that I needed that paperwork, anyways.
I called the DMV number again, put on my Bluetooth again (the connection was better this time) and drove back to Kate and Spencer’s.
Twenty minutes later, I was back in their living room, and somebody clicked through.
“Hello?” I said.
“Hello.” She said.
I sighed with relief and told her all my info again. She started telling me about the 72 hours, and I cut into it, telling her about my situation, and that I had talked to a nice lady earlier who had given me a 916 number, and could I just….
No, she said. It’s 72 hours. For everybody.
But I talked to someone earlier who…
No. 72 hours.
But, there was this 916 number
THERE IS NOBODY WHO CAN MAKE THIS GO FASTER, she snapped at me.
Jesus, I said. Thank you, then.
Have a nice day, she said.
I hung up.
I then called the Department of Transportation, who had no idea what I wanted or what my problem was. I was transferred (and I have each of these numbers written down. This is not an exaggeration) seven times before I was talking to someone who knew what I wanted.
Oh, she said. No, I don’t think you have to wait for the sticker from the DMV to get the letter of clearance from us. All you need is a moveable permit. Did they give you one of those?
Um, I said. I…don’t know?
Was it like a white piece of paper with a blue border?
Yes, yes I think it was.
Well, just bring that in, and we’ll give you a letter of clearance, and you can get your car out.
Okay, I said. Thanks. Oh….how late are you open today? Five?
No, she said. Four Thirty.
I looked at the clock. It was three thirty.
Ok, I’ll be there, I said, and hung up.
I needed to get another one of those things, and fast.
I felt bad for leaving the house unlocked, so I cleaned up my stuff and threw it in Spencer’s car, then locked the house behind me.
Then I drove back to the DMV. Again.
I got there at four. The huge LCD screen now said that the wait time for non-interviews was one hour and forty minutes.
I only had half an hour to get someone to help me, and then drive to the department of transportation to get the letter.
I walked up to the lady who had helped me before and asked her if she remembered me.
She gave me a weary look and said sure.
I told her that the department of transportation said that I just needed the paperwork that she had already given me.
She said ok, so what’s the problem?
I told her that I had lost it.
She said you lost it?
I said yeah.
We looked at each other for a second or two. I wondered if she was going to tell me that identity theft was on the rise. Instead she sighed again and started clicking around on her computer.
She suddenly frowned, and tried to click on something for a while, then leaned over to the person right next to her.
“Hey Reba? Is your computer down?”
Reba’s computer was definitely down.
They chatted amicably about this for a while.
The network came back up and she printed me the receipt that I had lost.
I drove madly toward the Department of Transportation, calling the girl there on the way. I was going to be a few minutes late, was that ok? She sighed, and said she could wait five minutes.
I got to the Department of Transportation at 4:34.
It was closed. On the door, it said that they closed at four.
I called the girl again. I got a recording that they closed at four thirty, and were located at…a different address?
I looked at the door in front of me.
“Department of Transportation Cashier’s Office.”
It was later that I found out that the correct Department of Transportation office, the one that settles parking issues, was one street away from the DMV, where I had just been.
Walking back to my car, the Charlie Brown song (that plays when Charlie is really down) playing in my head, I looked at my paperwork again.
“INCOMPLETE. NOT A MOVEABLE PERMIT.”
….hmmm. I guess that means that I can’t use this to get my car released anyways.
…which means that I have to wait 72 hours to get my car out of the impound, at a rate of 33 dollars a day.
Fuck this, I’m going to take a vacation in San Diego. I’ll come back in three days.
I dropped Spencer’s car off and walked to a metro, then caught a train to San Diego.
As soon as I got on the train, my phone beeped. I had a message from my sister – it said “The cats miss you already!” and had a picture of my new dress shirt in the litter box, wrapped around a lot of cat poo.
This was the worst interview ever.
But I had to laugh.
Saturday, November 8, 2008
Okay so this was fun and here’s how it went.
I finished my trip leading season on Friday, October 9th in Tuscany.
The trip went well and all was good and gravy and I tried to go home and go to sleep but ended up in a van going up into the hills with a really, really silly group of other Thrilling Adventures leaders.
We got lost and I claimed to know where we were going and started giving directions in the severe Thrilling Adventures method and everyone was laughing and free and done with taking care of people for a long time and we took turns pretending to be guests and asking the same silly questions that we answer every single day and in that moment it crashed on me that on every trip that I’m having a hard time there are a hundred other Thrilling Adventures leaders having the same silly conversation with someone in Peru or Vermont or China or right here in Italy.
We reached the top of a rise and whooped through a roundabout and I had to admit that I had no idea where I was going and someone called the Capo that means boss in Italian also top of hill and he gave us directions and we continued up the hill and arrived at the capo and his smiling Italian landlords handed out glasses of wine and a dozen other Thrilling Adventures vans also whooped in and someone had the idea that we’d do a blind wine tasting and we did that but mainly took pictures and tried not to fall into the Tuscan fall evening.
I’m not sure what that means but it made sense when I wrote it and it made sense then so I’ll keep it there above this sentence.
All in all there was
A) a huge table covered with a checkered tablecloth
B) Unlimited amounts of red wine
C) An apperitivo plate with sliced meats and bread and olive oils and something else too I can’t remember
D) a lasagna that was made by the wife of Jeff’s landlord which was brought out by an army of cousins and uncles and nonnos and Zias and finally the woman herself, who was met with thunderous applause. Ka boom.
E) Cigarettes smoked and then
F) A second course of wild boar
G) A birthday cake sung out and given and eaten
H) Cheeses and soups and a wild dance party that erupted in the center of the living room and went on for hours
I) An accordian
J) A French leader who could play accordion very well
K) A room full of grand sentimental Italian men who knew every word of every ancient accordion driven Italian song and danced traditional Italian dances slowly to accordion music as cigarette smoke drifted in through the windows and people slowly trailed out and found their way into one van or the other and then we went home down the hill to the leader house.
So I had no time to pack because I was well I drank too much red wine and I woke up way way way too late to catch my train but packed like mad and fortunately caught a ride to the train station with two other leaders and missed the train that I really needed to catch to Florence.
Oh yeah, I was going to Dublin to see Elliott and Noah. I was catching a train to another train to a shuttle to the airport to a flight to another shuttle to Trinity College in Dublin.
I ran into the airport in Bologna and thrust my passport at a woman who was trying to close the check in and she sighed and let me get on the flight and away I was.
In Dublin I met Elliott and Noah and Elliott’s’ girlfriend and a whole lot of Canadian girls and one Canadian guy and we taught them kings’ cup in a circle on the floor of a dorm room with two of my best friends from College and suddenly I felt like I was in college again, except I was coming from my job in Italy and Elliott is going to be a doctor and Noah is headed to life in Spain but one thing remained the same.
I drew the fucking last king. Again.
We ran from the dorms as they became too small for us and wandered out into downtown Dublin. I was hysterically sleep deprived still and hadn’t had dinner yet but found a burger king as my friends waited in line for the club and came out and ate whoppers until the bouncer grabbed it from me and threw it on the ground because well mate you can’t eat in here but I was almost done so I didn’t mind.
We drank and danced and watched the club howl when U2 came on and eventually left and Noah and I found ourselves at a friend of Elliott’s’ and slept.
The next day we bought clothes and watched a terrible movie and enjoyed it immensely and went back to the Guinness factory with a sky bar and immaculate views of Dublin and James Joyce quotes on the windows and god damn it why is this always the best pint of Guinness in the world?
But it was again.
We ate mashed potatoes (mashers! Hahahaha yes) and gravy and more Guinness (apparently, Guinness is mainly an old man drink for the Irish. Huh) and then we were done with Dublin and Elliott had to study so Noah and I grabbed a bus and he tried to play music in the train station but was cheerfully accused of trying to busk by a homeless man and then we got on the train to Galway.
On our second day there I wrote a few pages in my moleskin with a nice pen that smears black ink when I accidentally run my hand over the pages to keep them from flipping in the cold sea wind.
Green gentle explosions of sloping hills craig downward into the coldest looking water that I’ve ever seen and so I decide to write for a bit.
We spilled out of a train onto the streets of Glasgow last night and asked passerby where this or that street was and clutched a handwritten map in fingerless gloves and then we met Gob.
Gob arrived on an old pink bicycle and glasses and the thickest Irish Accent I’ve ever heard.
We showed Gob our map, carefully copied by hand from a lonely planet in a lonely train station in Dublin and Gob regarded us severely then got off his bike.
“I’ll show ya. Come.”
And off he went, his bike spokes clicking and his wispy white hair flying and Noah and I following warily through the foggy streets of Glasgow.
He led us to a hostel, stopping only once to tell us how Ireland was going to shit and then starting off again into fog. A young hip guy materialized out of a side street and said “Gob” reverently and then was gone. Gob sort of slowed down and looked confused, then said Oh yes hello and then kept walking click click click with his old weird bike.
Our hotel was full so he swore and said come on then so we did and followed him a street or two more to another hostel. He waited patiently outside the new hostel and when I came back to tell him that they had beds for us he only nodded and clicked off and that was the last we saw of Gob.
We ate Fish and Chips and met three French guys and tried to go to a concert and failed and so wandered through the streets of Glasgow and obliged our tourist desires and drank spectacular pints of Guinness and Jameson Whiskey on the rocks and Noah had a guitar player play Bob Dylan and then eventually we slept and woke up and missed the one and only bus of the day to the cliffs of Moher but it’s okay we walked through Irish rain and found a wine shop and a hidden path to a massive hill green green green that ends in flying sea cliffs and wine from Spain and Bread and cheese and these pages here fluttering wildly in the cold Irish wind and Noah sketching in his book which brings me to here
Glasgow is neat.
…That night we went out with a German girl and a bored Canadian girl and drank yes more Guinness and found ourselves in a small bar with a group of fantastic human beings sitting on a corner bench playing traditional Irish music no stage or mics or anything just two beautiful women playing violins with subtle smiles on their faces and a mandolin virtuoso and a guy hunched over a hand drum and an acoustic guitar and man they were on a tear and I finally stopped paying attention to the bored Canadian girl which was great and just watched them tear until it was time to go and so we went.
The next day we finally made it to the cliffs of Moher and slept through an endless Ireland postcard in the back of a deserted bus and then woke up and watched the country really be as lush and rolling and green as it was supposed to be.
The cliffs are a worthy tourist sight – they’re bigger and slopyer and giganticer and more magnificent then any picture can tell you. We spent a few hours meandering on cliff edges and marveling at everything then ate baked potatoes in a hobbit hole then took the bus back north and grabbed our clothes out of lockers and then left Galway behind us in the back of the last bus of the night north.
Noah has a friend Fitzy in the North who lives in Donegall and we thought that meant Donegall town but as we discovered in Donegall town no it doesn’t Donegall is a county too and we were two hours from his house, a cheerful phone voice told us.
So we found a hostel in Donegall town and shot the shit with a girl who was leaving a life for another one and drank tea and it was rainy outside and then went to sleep and the next day took another bus and ate Pub food and drank more beer and found ourselves right outside the small town of Muff.
Yes, there is a small town of Muff. I met someone who claims that they, a seaside town, have a diving club.
There you have it; the Muff Diving Club.
Fitzy and his good friend Gramn and their good friend Shamus took us to bars and let us stay in Gramn’s Oceanside cottage where we made sandwiches and rashers and watched old Clint Eastwood movies while the waves crashed outside and we drove at high speeds through northern Ireland and ran gleefully across the Giants’ Causeway in a rainstorm and then hit the bars and Noah performed a Johnny Cash song and then I joined him for some Beatles and The DJ started announcing between sets that the girls in front fancied us and boy were they a whole lot older than us and so we escaped to a club where I met a pretty Irish girl but she stole my pajamas and slept while I packed and Noah drank coffee but went to sleep anyways and someone was supposed to pick me up at six in the morning but they overslept and didn’t show so I made Noah wake up and we borrowed Gramns car and so we jumped in and figured out how to drive on the other side of the road and drank coffee and made our way to Belfast and then right there at the airport the car died and a policeman and I pushed the car down the drop off zone while Noah started the car in second and I hooted and the policeman nodded and Noah honked and I was off to Venice to start the Thrilling Adventures staff ride and Noah was off to Spain and that was that for Ireland.
Monday, November 3, 2008
Saturday, September 13, 2008
Oh this is the Beginning of The Great and Nimble Tale of Robin epically voyaging across three countries faced with such perils such as the villainously laughing Polish border control guard or lightning storms over the Grand Tatras or having to once again return to a country where a pint of beer costs more than one Dollar –
Which is the case in Eastern Europe! A Pint of Beer costs one dollar in Slovakian bars, a dollar-fifty in Hungarian bars, and a little more than that (almost two dollars) in Poland.
There are Parts of Slovakia where the pints are more like fifty cents. Fifty cents!
I would be a terrible drunk in Slovakia.
But I digress!
Let's see where this darn story goes. Right now I'm sitting in a corner of the perpetually busy and laughingly inefficient Milan Airport, having not slept in let's see the last time I woke up was 26 hours ago and my connection to Florence is seeming not to happen due to a cluster of men in green Air Italia jackets viciously gesturing at each other behind the counter, most of them on cell phones. I don't mind though, I missed this place a bit.
I was up there for almost exactly one month. I flew into Budapest from Florence in the middle of the night, spent a lot of Thrilling Adventures' money shuttling around in Taxis looking for a SINGLE HOTEL ROOM JESUS ISN'T THIS SUPPOSED TO BE A PRETTY BIG TOWN? But lo and behold I finally found it and all was well, I handed my passport to the surly fellow standing behind the desk of the elegant (read: a dive) hotel Atlas, went upstairs and crashed.
The next day I followed the simple (read: Insanely complicated) directions that a Thrilling Adventures guide had posted on our website on how to get to our leader hotel in the town of Visegrad, a suburb of Budapest. I took a taxi to a train station. I got on the wrong train. I got on the right train. I rode on this train for an hour. The conductor told me that I had the wrong ticket. I purchased the right ticket. I got off the train and jumped into another taxi. I talked with Janus the Taxi driver about his son's eating habits for forty five minutes, I finally reached the hotel…and was the only Thrilling Adventures guide there.
Upon further investigation on the Internet, I discovered that I was indeed the only Thrilling Adventures guide around at the time. There were two guides and a van support driver leading the biking trip which was currently in Poland (8 hour drive away), and two guides leading the walking trip, which had just finished and was on its way back from Poland.
I was supposed to embark on a 6 day familiarization (FAM) trip in three days, and I had no van. Huh. I wrote an email to one of the girls leading the biking trip and went and had an amazing, crisp beer. Then I had another one.
Then I had a really, really long nap.
At this point I think I was totally in love with Hungary, especially as I was no longer…hungry.
(those who know me should have seen this pun coming a mile away. It was Big, it was Ugly, but at least it was Well-Fed.
After my nap, I woke up and shuffled downstairs to the front desk.
"Oh yes," she says, remembering something, "Your passport number please?"
"Of course," I mumble blurrily, and start digging around my extremely masculine man-purse for my passport…gosh I could have sworn it was around here some…where…oh shit.
I had never gotten it back from the surly man at the hotel atlas. I promptly called the hotel. Hello, I said. Had I left my passport there?
"Of course," he said.
I think he was just choosing the almost-correct word in English (his wasn't so good) there, but at the moment, a huge trip away from Budapest, with no car, and the urgent need to cross the Hungary-Slovakia border in two days, I was angry.
I wanted to run to Budapest, shout "OF COURSE?!? I've GOT A COURSE FOR YOU-IN PAIN!" And then I'd pull off my clothes in like one smooth ripping motion, and I'd be wearing some WWF wrestling costume, and we would do fierce, choreographed battle right there.
However, this was not to be, and I just listened as he offered to send it to me. How long does that take, I asked? Oh, he said, one day.
Ok, I said.
It was right as I was going to sleep that night that I had a moment of doubt. Here I was putting a whole lot of trust in that guy, and a whole lot of trust in the Hungarian postal system. It was Sunday, and I had to leave on Tuesday afternoon for Slovakia on my FAM. And five days later I would be back, and leaving again to drive van support on the 9-day BHPQ (Biking Hungary-Poland Casual) Thrilling Adventures trip. If that passport happened to get lost, I would be really, really out of work for a while, and Thrilling Adventures would probably have to bring in someone else to drive the van support, and they'd probably have to fly them in from somewhere else in Europe, and they were going to be really, really, really not happy with me.
I needed to call the hotel Atlas first thing in the morning, tell them to absolutely NOT send my passport in the mail, and that I was coming to get it personally.
I just had to figure out how to do that without a car and over a hundred kilometers between us.
THE NEXT DAY-FAM EVE
I woke up at seven forty five am to go grab some breakfast in time to call the hotel right at eight am, before they mailed my passport into the potentially endless labyrinth of the Hungarian mail system.
I got on the Internet to find the number of the hotel (as the lady who had dialed it for me the day before was gone, and the morning clerk seemed to only know "Excuse me?" in English (keep in mind I don't speak Hungarian at all).
Here's the thing with Hungarian hotels. You can't directly find their webpage by searching on Google. All you can find is a reservation service for the whole city.
I tried that. It just rang. And rang. I looked again on the webpage. Despite the fact that the hotel Atlas has a 24 hour desk clerk, the reservation service only opens at nine.
Well, I guessed that I could wait on that. I checked my email, and found an email waiting for me from the Trip Specialist of the region.
Robin, (it said) don't rent a car for your fam. You need to wait for us to come back with the van-you can use that. Also, you need to get back a day early from the fam, which means you only have 5 days to do the 6 day fam. See you tomorrow!
Hmmm. I know (by this point) that this means my fam will probably be 12-14 hour days for five days. Siiiiiigh.
Well, I needed to get a bike, because I needed to get to Budapest to get that passport. I read further, and discovered that the Thrilling Adventures equipment for the region was being kept in a huge storage box behind the Hotel Silvanus, a 10 minute drive from where I was.
I asked the front desk lady where that was. Oh, she said, it's very close-just up the road on top of Black Mountain.
…did she just say "Black Mountain?"
indeed she did.
It turns out that I needed to hike up to Black Mountain.
An hour later I emerged at the top of the trail and found the storage box, opened it up and grabbed a bike, then rode back down the hill. I went back into reception and called the reservation service (it was now 930).
…Still no answer. Fuck. I had no choice but to ride the bike into Budapest-before they mailed my passport.
I asked the front desk person how to get to Budapest by bike. She gave me a crazy look (it was really, really hot outside) and told me that it would take me all day to ride there and back (this is a different lady from the 'excuse me' lady now). I told her dammit, I don't care, just tell me how. She did, I ran to my room and got all my stuff ready, and came back (it's now ten am). I wanted to call that reservation service one more time. I called…it rang…someone picked up!
"Do you speak English?" I asked.
"Of course," she said.
I fought down my initial urges to yell at her and went on to ask for the number of the hotel Atlas. She sounded irritated.
"I'm sorry sir, this is a RESERVATION service."
"I know, but I just need the number for the hotel atl…"
"I'm sorry sir, I don't have that information."
"But you guys must have…"
"Oh…well, thanks, then."
She hung up.
I sat there a second, looking at the phone in my hand. The reception clerk looked up brightly and asked what was wrong. I told her, and she said, "Oh, the hotel Atlas? I have the number right here!"
…I went through a number of interesting emotions at this point. Pushing them down, I called the hotel.
"Hello," I said, "My name is Robin McEwan, and I left my passport
there yesterday. Is it still there?"
"Yes, it is here," the surly clerk said.
"OH MY GOD YES" I yelled.
"Sir?" The hotel clerk asked.
"Ummm, anyways, I am coming to get it today. Don't send it, please."
"Of course," said the clerk.
I was in too good a mood to care.
I hung up the phone and walked on and started riding. 20 minutes later, I was passing through the town of szentendre and saw a Thrilling Adventures van….it was the walking trip crew! I pulled over and talked with them a while, and more specifically asked them if I could take their van into Budapest to get my passport. One of them wanted to come and we zipped into Budapest, ate dinner and ran around, and then, well fed (not hungry!) and content, we stopped at the hotel Atlas to get my passport.
My passport query was met with a blank stare. He had no idea what I was talking about. My good mood rapidly fell. He made some phone calls, first talking to the person whom I had spoken with on the phone earlier that day.
It turns out that when I called, the clerk had immediately remembered that he had seen my passport around after I had left. He didn't, though, make any attempt to find it after I called. In the meantime, someone else at the hotel was taking it to the post office and mailing it.
It was gone.
I wandered back out, and in a bit of a dejected silence we drove back to the hotel.
The next day I woke up early and did all the bike routes for day one of our trip on my bike (pretty amazing, hilly, forested rides, actually), and checked in with my hotel to see if the passport had arrived.
I rode up to the storage unit and waited for the girls to arrive. I rehearsed what I was going to tell them: Oh, I didn't really need to do the FAM anyways, I'm GREAT with driving routes that I've never driven before! (haha!)…or something like that.
They drove up, and before I could say anything, they were like, oh, and we just stopped at the hotel-they were saying something about your passport arriving?
So I grabbed one of their vans and took off on my fam.
It's a little maddening driving 12 hours a day and spending like a week without really talking to anyone. After a while, you sort of start talking to yourself in the car, then you talk about "Oh great, now I'm talking to myself," which is even worse.
However, the fam was pretty rad. I drove through northern Hungary and crossed the river into Slovakia, drove the tiny, countryside routes through southern Slovakia (not an atm to be found for 100s of kilometers of towns), hung out drinking cheap beer and wandering around tiny mining towns in the foothills of the Tatras, got amazingly lost a handful of times, (one of those times an hour up a logging road in the mountains where I only realized that I was lost as I came across a logging team that was totally amazed that I had found my way there) had dinner with a bunch of polish girls, and got paid to spend two days hiking the spectacular mountain hikes that we take our guests on.
Krakow is the most amazing city ever. More on this later.
I drove 8 hours back to the trip start (from Krakow to Budapest), ate some pizza and had a quick dinner meeting with the two leaders of the trip (on this particular trip I was not a leader-I was van support, which means I mainly just did was they told me to do, and drove luggage from one hotel to another and spent my nights learning about the culture and history of the three countries so that when I led the trip the next week it would look like I knew what I was doing.)
The trip ran pretty smoothly, so I don't have a lot to report. The guests were happy, the rides were amazing, nothing really went wrong.
…Which is probably because all the wrong things were waiting for me. The next trip was the most chaotic event of my entire life.
Over and over I sat down to write this, and it wasn’t coming out like I wanted (that’s what she said…oh!) so I’d put it off, and this would happen or that would happen, and well you know now it’s been almost a year, and I’ve got this new blog page, and I think before I do any more new stuff (I’ve got some crazy trips coming up in Italy and then Croatia and then …Montana…and I’m sure I’ll have some funny tales to tell) I should really hammer this out (that’s what she said? Does that work?).
So here we are. Just kick back, pour yourself a nice glass of wine, lounge in your comfy chair, and prepare to be mesmerized by the tale of Robin and the villainously laughing Polish border guard, gasp out loud at the thrilling moment of Robin and the disappearing Slovakian water bottles, BARELY CLING TO YOUR CHAIR at the most fantastic almost loosing of van keys that has ever happened on the outskirts of a Gypsy Village!
(Jesus, is this guy just going to tell the story or what?)
So I'll see how far I can get tonight, and then (just like with Bali) I'll add stuff every few days until it's done.
So let’s see…I guess in the last blog about Slovakia, I wrote about when I first reached Budapest, and went just to the start of the trip that I was leading through Slovakia, Poland and Hungary with another leader named Kaitlyn.
Right at the end, I mentioned that I drove van support before I actually got to lead the trip with Kaitlyn. Kaitlyn was leading with another girl named Renee, and I was their bitch…I mean van support driver. I don’t have that many stories from that trip (it passed pretty smoothly-probably because I wasn’t leading it), except this one:
THE TALE OF THE VILLIANOUSLY LAUGHING POLISH BORDER GUARD
So one night, in the southern Polish town of Zakopane…
(cool, cool city. It’s a backpacking paradise, nestled right against a huge series of mountains and trees and ski lifts and razor-sharp air, and lots and lots of cows. Outdoor gear shops everywhere and a gigantic, pedestrian-only street running down the center, stuffed with outdoor bar patios and restaurants and street performers and people hawking fried cheeses-some in shapes like goats-and other local wares. It was always a trip to dodge thousands of Polish people walking arm in arm while the aromas of all of these things threatened to merrily dance you into the cobblestones. I dug it)
…I had been given the night off as the van support driver while the two leaders took the guests to a restaurant. I was sitting in our hotel room, going through my extremely masculine man-purse, when I found an envelope that one of the leaders had handed me early that morning, as we were leaving our last Slovakian hotel, headed for Poland.
“Hey Robin, make sure to tip the hotel porters, ok?”
“No problem!” I said, assuming an air of deft competence and assurance. I took the envelope, put it on my clipboard, took care of finishing the luggage-load for the morning, and…didn’t tip the porters.
So here I am, sitting in my hotel room in Zakopane as rain begins to pour outside, holding a slightly moist envelope in my hand, thinking about what a surprise the porters at that last hotel in Slovakia had, and realized what had to be done.
I had to spend my night off in Zakopane hand-delivering the tip to the porters of the hotel Kolowrat. This tip translates into roughly 10 dollars.
I ran out to my van in the pouring rain and starting driving, getting lost a few times as I kept forgetting which exit to the city would take me back to the Slovakian border. Finally I found it, driving down a desolate road through a towering, pitch black forest, wondering if I indeed had found the right road, or if I was headed out towards certain and violent death, probably at the hands of a gentle-looking farm worker who would offer me a bed-“It’s nothing special but you’re welcome to it, stranger.” And I’d wake up and my car would be gone and I’d find all the skeletons in some closet, and I’d have to flee, panicked, into the Polish countryside.
And I really wanted to avoid all that.
So finally I made it to the border, crossed it, and finished the short drive from the border to the hotel Kolowrat, where we had stayed the night before. This hotel is beautiful, in a weird, communist-architecture sort of way, with a lobby that has some views that are, well, stunning (Oh! Check out the picture at the bottom of this page. That’s me giving a morning route rap in the Kolowrat lobby).
The hotel is built on a grassy knoll that slopes down to the base of a cluster of craggy mountains that explode from the ground up into the clouds. The hotel decided to enhance this by putting the worlds’ ugliest statue in front of this scene, so it’s hit and miss. But still a pretty cool place.
I didn’t take any of this in at this point; I was on a mission. I entered the gigantic lobby from the rain, clopping across the tile as the only person around. I had to wait a while for the receptionist to wander out and help me, and when she finally did, all I did was give her the tip in an envelope and walk back out, leaving her sort of baffled but (in my mind) touched that I had done all this work to make sure the porters got their ten dollar tip.
Now it was really pouring as I drove back to the Polish border. I pulled up to the little gate and handed the little bald Polish man my passport.
He took it and closed the door. Five minutes passed. (This is normal, as we are a bunch of Americans driving French vans in Poland. Seems a little weird to anybody). He then slid the door open and demanded the registration. I gave him this; he took it and closed the door. Five minutes passed. (Not so normal anymore). He then slid the door open again and demanded my….international driver’s license.
A VERY SPECIAL NOTE ON INTERNATIONAL DRIVERS LICENCES
You go to AAA anywhere in the states. You give them 10 dollars and show them your drivers license and whatever passport-sized picture of yourself you’ve got, and they give you the fakest, least real-lookingist ID card that I’ve ever seen. I’ve shown them to Police in Italy who have no idea what they are, so at this point I no longer carried mine with me.
Ummmm, I said….I have a…California drivers’ license.
He looked at me for a few seconds, then threw his head back…
And laughed. It was a short burst of laughter that I was hearing for the first time in the real world, a type of laughter that is only reserved for villains in movies after they’ve been told by (usually) James Bond that they’ll never get away with this.
He laughed for exactly three seconds, and then his head snapped back to its overly serious normal level.
He closed the window.
Five minutes passed.
Men in army getup came and went from the little office. There was talking and pointing at me.
There was lots of shaking of heads. I began to regret getting the porters their ten dollars.
Finally the little window opened again and the little man poked his head back out.
“We decide…” he says, in a slowly lifting drawl, “you can go.”
Yes, I thought. Yes.
He handed the passport and registration back. I tried to grab it, but he held a grip on it the whole time, so we paused, having a sort of passport handshake in the midst of the pouring Polish/Slovakian rain.
“But if police pull you over, and you no have international drivers’ license,” he said menacingly, and let go of the passport to demonstrate a person getting handcuffed. He then nodded severely.
Ok, I said, and drove on, and damn it I was finally back in Poland.
I would have had a pretty quick drive back, too, if it wasn’t for the 10 mph tractor that I had to follow back through the forest to Zakopane.
I hope those porters spent the best ten dollars of their life.
(Click on "older posts" below this to finish the story)