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Living Freedom by Claire Wolfe. Musings about personal freedom and finding it within ourselves.

Want to Comment on a blog post? Look for and click on the blue No Comments or # Comments at the end of each post.



Archive for February, 2010

Claire Wolfe

Zip Lining

Sunday, February 28th, 2010

Me. Flying over the jungle.

Yes. It’s me. Flying over the jungle like Tarzan. A clumsy, terrified Tarzan, to be sure. A Tarzan shouting, “Oh sh*t!” rather than “Aiyeeaiyeeaiyeeeeee!” or whatever he shouted as he swung from his vines. But today, Lorri and I did what we promised ourselves we would do at least once on this trip despite any quibbles and cowardice. We went zip lining.

It was harder for Lorri because we had to climb for 45 minutes to get to the top of the mountain to start the course. Aside from just getting over the effects of drinking some Don’t-Drink-the-Water, she has health problems that made it a struggle. Lucky for me, my dogs have kept me in good shape so I enjoyed the climb. For Lorri-the-Brave, it was an act of endurance.

But holy cats, the downward journey was heart-stopping. We were both scared out of our wits the entire time. But so proud of ourselves afterwards.

And here’s Lorri, zipping down the steepest and most heart-dropping leg of the course — with rocks and raging water below (though unfortunately you can’t see those in the pic).

L zip-lining

Claire Wolfe

Pictures from Furrin Parts

Sunday, February 28th, 2010

A few pix from my adventures. Apologies to those on slow connections, but I haven’t mastered the art of creating clickable thumbnails on this site yet. I’ll work on that.

View from our hostel window

This is the view — such as it was — from the window of our $8/night hostel (in the local Big City where we spent our first three nights). Wasn’t as scary-bad as it looks, though it was definitely very “basic.”

Yacht with private helicopter

How the other half lives. We've seen a ton of contrasts here -- sumptuous wealth side-by-side with deep poverty. But this yacht -- complete with private helicopter! -- took the conspicuous-consumption cake. Spotted at a marina near the local Big City, it seemed likely to belong to a rich American. Later, we ran into a number of American boat-dwellers, most living way more humbly than this.

Dugout canoes in the village

Speaking of contrasts, this is the village where we stayed in the Wayback-Outback. The two-story house to the left of the bridge was a chief’s house, where we rented rooms (thanks to friend-of-friend connections). Though one of the more “modern” homes in the village, it had no electricty or indoor toilet, and I saw water come out of the taps only twice. The structure is of concrete with a corrugated metal roof, but three walls of our bedrooms were of woven bamboo — whose gaps theoretically let in light and breezes, but actually mostly let in noise.

Birthday girls

Birthday girls. On the right, my friend Lorri. On the left, a 90-year-old whose name we never did catch. We were invited to her birthday party after I used my few words of Furrin to tell everybody we met that it was Lorri's birthday. The women of the Wayback-Outback were marvelously imperious and clearly ruled the roost. Though we towered over them, they could make us feel we were being thoroughly looked down upon and judged. But they had a great sense of humor, too, and could be a hoot once you got to know them a little.

Claire Wolfe

Hey, now here’s a plan!

Saturday, February 27th, 2010

You may have been following the story about the double-dipping sheriff who showed up in class to force an apology on a professor who criticized him.

Just business as usual in Govland. Ho hum. But the article linked above does contain (inadvertently) a wonderful thought:

“If we try to bury every politician who made a mistake, we won’t have any left!”

Ahhhhh … dontcha wish?

Claire Wolfe

In the Wayback-Outback

Saturday, February 27th, 2010

The first thing to know about “indigenous” villages, if you didn’t already, is that they’re claustrophobic. And almost totally lacking in privacy — especially if you’re one of the rare foreigners to stay within their borders. The sheer Novelty of You makes you a public attraction, no matter how much everyone tries to be polite.

One of the first things to know about “island paradises” is that they mostly aren’t. Islands, yes. Paradises, nope.

Another thing I didn’t know about villages is how F*&&^%%ing noisy they are. OMG, OMG, OMG!

My friend Lorri and I spent most of a week on an island in a blue, blue, sea. An island that was no more than a few hundred yards wide and not terribly much longer (though if you counted up the whole little string of island-ettes that were connected and divided by swamp-ettes and canal-ettes, the length might have been a mile).

Despite that, from most places in the village, it was impossible to glimpse that blue, blue sea because of the dense housing. And when you did get close to it … you might wish you hadn’t. That’s the first place where we noticed the part about paradises not being paradisical.

I don’t mean to sound like a crusading Greenpeace member. But that blue, blue sea was awash — not in water and fishes, but in food cans, shoe soles, candy-bar wrappers, empty (I hope) motor oil containers, and of course the omnipresent plastic water bottles.

And I’m not even mentioning what the built-over-water privies add to the mix. That’s a whole ‘nother blog entry.

When we asked where the swimming beach was, we were loaded into a dugout canoe (motorized, but judging by the sound of the motor, just barely) and we were efficiently put-putted a full hour from “our” island to … well, picture that famous “desert island” you’ve seen in a thousand cartoons. Yes, that island. Except there were three palm trees instead of the standard one and four bamboo-and-grass huts sometimes used by workers or travelers. But the whole thing couldn’t have been more than 75 feet wide and 200 long. And there, on a white-sand beach exactly the size of the one in those cartoons, we had a delightful time swimming in warm, clear water and gathering humongous entire sea shells.

Our deserted island

This is a picture of the actual desert island from which we swam. Our little beach begins on the lower right. The huts are empty when not used by occasional plantation workers or travelers.

But even there, the island was covered in old pairs of jeans, Pepsi cans, used diapers, and depleted bottles of suntan lotion. I’m afraid stuff like that will be our main memory of “paradise.”

We got in exactly two hours of swimming and beachcombing before our guide (who spoke no more of our language than we did of his) communicated that we had to go back. Never saw a beach again until we flew over some on our way back to civilization.

Don’t mean to whine, though. Being in the Wayback-Outback was one powerfully interesting experience in “the other side of life.” No electricity. No Internet. No post office. Running water that rarely actually ever … er, ran. When it did run, householders would quickly fill buckets to cover all the times it didn’t.

Most houses had bamboo walls and thatched roofs. More modern ones were built of crumbling concrete and tin. For most of a week, we didn’t see or hear a single bit of news. Never saw a newspaper. Nor one wheeled vehicle (the streets, such as they were, were often too narrow, or the house roofs too low, for even a bicycle to pass). Men carried burdens, including coconuts, bananas, and in one memorable instance, a string of five-gallon propane bottles, slung from thick branches over their shoulders. Women carried baskets of wood on their backs, supported by a strap across their foreheads. (And each and every one of them looked as if the thing was giving her a roaring headache.)

Yet oddly enough, there was cell service and many young people had cell phones — though we saw those used primarily as cameras. Didn’t see a single soul walking around with phone clapped to ear. That was nice.

Without electricity, you might ask, how did the cell phones stay charged? Well, a few grass roofs did sport small solar panels, and the handful of tiny stores (such as they were) were wired. If you knew where to look, you could pay a business between $.25 to $.50 to charge your phone.

Free enterprise; ain’t it grand?

I can’t really say we had a great time. But we had an enlightening time. And there were plenty of good things I’ll try to tell you about in the next few days. Like the food.

But the noise … OMG. From firecrackers going off at 4:00 a.m. to dueling radios blasting from the village’s two small squares all day, to domestic arguments under our wall to barking dogs to just-plain chatter, chatter, chatter and kids playing soccer in front of the house at all hours … we barely slept the whole time we were there, and once into civilization again we each collapsed for 12+ hours.

Oh … and for those who were wondering after the earlier thread about Don’t Drink the Water kinda places … I survived the Wayback-Outback unscathed, thanks to scrupulous drinking of bottled water, a few uses of a SteriPen water purifier, regular dosing with doxycycline, and three tasty acidophilus chewables a day — much of this thanks to recommendations from blessed blog readers. I did defy the “don’t eat any vegetables you haven’t peeled yourself” rule to enjoy a couple of irresistible salads. No problem.

My friend Lorri, however, didn’t luck out so well. She was fine until, on our last evening in the village, she accepted a glass of Tang at a birthday party. She’s a more experienced traveler than I and should have thought twice. But she reasoned that since one of the village chiefs (our host) had told her proudly that they had five miles of water pipe, it meant the water was piped from five miles away, from some safe spot. She was halfway through the glass when it occurred to me that he probably meant there were five miles of pipe running back and forth under our feet, not running from somewhere else, and that the source of the water in those pipes might actually be unthinkable.

She’s still not feeling too well. But we have pills and potions for that, too.

Claire Wolfe

Another reason to dis the census

Friday, February 26th, 2010

I’m still traveling, but now I’m in a place where I can satisfy my news addiction.

It seems that a lot of 10-year-old articles about the census are turning up right now. Which isn’t a bad thing (though some of them should have been updated first and most should be more clearly marked for what they are).

Ran across this one by Dave Kopel that reminds of yet another reason to tell the census-taker to go to hell: because information about you will be sold to marketers and some of it could quite easily be personally identifiable.

The main thing that’s out-of-date about all these old articles is that they refer to the “long form” that some households felt compelled to fill out back then. That’s no longer part of the census, of course. Instead (oh lucky us!) the long form has become a permanent fixture of the corporate state in the form of the separate American Community Survey — a creature even more resistible than the census. And even more useful to the marketeers at gov.com.

Claire Wolfe

Landed in ‘Netland

Friday, February 26th, 2010

Trav’lin …

Hey! I’m here. I have landed in a part of these Furrin Parts where I’ll have pretty reliable Internet for at least the next few days. I’ll soon be writing about our recent experiences in the Wayback-Outback. (Most of a week without electricity, running water, news, English, or even wheeled vehicles — oh my!) But for now, here are two observations I penned (computered?) just before leaving the local Big City for Remoteland.

It’s great to be back in touch for a while.

—–

More Unamerican things

Yet another unAmerican act observed taking place right out in public: Lorri and I stopped in a supermarket in the local Big City to get food for our upcoming days in the Wayback-Outback. And there, right in a center aisle — in front of the entire world, children and all — a young lady was handing out free samples of rum. Yes, Demon Rum.

Quite strong rum, too. And good. Something new from Guatemala. Don’t ask me its name. I was too bedazzled by the brazen act (or perhaps the bedazzlement was due to the half-ounce of rum I drank as I ambled through the grocery aisles) to get the brand name straight.

But can you imagine? If any chain of stores handed out free booze samples to random customers in the U.S., M.A.D.D., Alcoholics Anonymous, half the churches in the land, and no doubt at least a dozen other moral busybodies would toss such a crusade, the entire chain would probably be driven into bankruptcy. Or at least driven into multi-million-dollar frenzies of public apology, followed by promises to set up 501(c)(3)s dedicated to curing addiction. For the Children.

Here? No big deal. It’s just life.

—–

Adventures in lingo

One day in the local Big City, Lorri and I had a wonderful guide, Daniel. He drove us hither and thither in his taxi. He showed us the sights, took us grocery shopping, found me what might be the only Internet cafe in the land, and kept us from stumbling into the kind of places where (he tells us) it’s possible to buy — really buy — a young man or woman for as little as $200. (One of those places is the barrio we had to traverse to get to our hostel.)

He also spoke excellent English, which postponed for at least one more day the perils of being on our own with the local version of Furrin.

But we had a couple of delightful confusions. Early on, he pointed out a street he translated as Central Avenue. Lorri, my good Christian friend, misheard because of his accent. “SINFUL Avenue?” she asked incredulously. And I must admit, the street did have that sort of look.

We all cracked up over that. And for the rest of the day “Sinful Avenue” it became.

But the real crackup came later when the eloquent Daniel made his one-and-only English-language error — and a pretty mild one, at that. He was driving us to a vast field of ruins, some of which seemed to have undergone a touch of restoration. He referred to the work as “remodeling.” As we gazed out over acres of crumbled stone, Lorri immediately made some wisecrack that I’d have been far too diplomatic to come up with. Just some remark about it being “one heck of a big remodeling job.” But all three of us doubled over with laughter, Daniel the hardest of all.

Well, if anybody’s going to make wisecracks over language errors, every native we meet will be howling at Lorri and me for the next three weeks. It really wasn’t fair to Daniel. But it was funny. Maybe it was funny in that “you hadda be there” way. But the three of us darn-near veered off the road. (Maybe it was that free rum we had. Oh, but that was later.)

No we are on our own. And we’ll miss the informative, helpful, and eloquent Daniel.

And I should take the time to publicly thank S., an ex-pat who put us in touch with Daniel, supplied us with a local cellphone, and did many things to make this trip not only possible but delightful.

Claire Wolfe

Furrin languages

Wednesday, February 24th, 2010

(I’m now off adventuring beyond the reach of wireless. So here’s a post I wrote early-early on. I’m getting a tad more used to things now …)

—–

Trav’lin’ …

The first thing you notice about furriners is that they speak Furrin. (Never mind that I’m now the furriner; don’t Americans always think of themselves as the center of the universe?)

I’m not opposed to speaking Furrin. I’ve tried to learn to do it myself, twice. One time, I managed to get two years’ worth of straight As, become a tutor to several of my own classmates — and still never was able to speak the language in question, though I could grope my way through reading, writing, and mumbling a few words of it. (But even all these years later, should you happen to need a verb conjugated, I’m your girl.)

My particular problem right now is this: The dominant form of Furrin spoken here is a close cousin to the Furrin I once tried so hard to learn. And every time I have to say, “Please,” “Thank you,” “Where’s the bus depot?” or “Yes, we really are relieved to have gotten rid of George W. Bush, and you’re welcome to take Obama off our hands if you think he’s so hot,” what little I can manage tends to come out in the other language.

Which sounds just enough like the local lingo to make everybody think I’m hideously fracturing their native tongue. Which leads them to assume, quite politely, that I’m an idiot. Which may not be far from the mark.

Since they can also clearly detect my US-ian accent, I hope they’ll at least give me credit for trying, in this world where most Americans are notoriously lacking in any variety of Furrin.

Shortly, my friend Lorri and I will be headed into the wilds, where most people speak a language so obscure that no phrasebooks or CDs teach a word of it. Communicating with gestures and smiles, I’ll probably appear more intelligent. At least I hope so.

Claire Wolfe

Pre-flight paranoia

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2010

An out-of-order post. Though you’re seeing this after I’ve “escaped,”** I’m writing it at 3:45 a.m. in the sleepless hours before my flight from the U.S. I’m at a friend’s house in the big city, connected to a network one of their zillions of neighbors left handily unsecured.

—–

I’m still excited about my trip, but I’ve been struck by pre-flight paranoia.

It started yesterday as I packed. Deciding to take tea along, I slipped some regular old Lipton, then a few Earl Greys into a baggie. Finally, I tossed in a couple packets of my favorite treat-tea, the lovely stuff I drink when I’m feeling indulgent. As I was about to pop all that into a corner of a carry-on, I looked at the brand name on the treat packets: Ahmad English #1.

Ahmad I thought. Sounds Arabic. And I turned the packets around so the brand name wouldn’t show.

Paranoid? Yep, completely. The only question is: Whose paranoia? Mine or the TSAs?

Then last night before bedtime, I read this oh-so-very-heartening article on the realities of The New Security (post-crotch-bomber). And now, while I still feel brave about this morning’s flight, since my subversive Arab-sounding tea is concealed, I dread the return.

And with the mention of so many passengers’ hands and belongings being swapped for alleged “traces of explosives,” I recall the Guildford Four and the Maguire Seven. I know that things as non-boomacious as playing cards, plastic wrappers, and ordinary household cleaning products can test positive … and then what?

And as many as four out of five passengers selected for “special” screening in some places? How very special is that?

I wonder what awaits when I must return to the Land of the Formerly Free?

—–

I hoped to keep the travel posts as chronological as possible. But realizing I might not even find an Internet cafe, let alone a conveniently unsecured wifi, network in the first week of travel, I hope you won’t mind one or two out of place. And I hope you won’t mind if I’m not completely coherent. Haven’t had my “terrorist tea” or any other caffeine injection yet this morning …

** I HOPE you’re reading it after I’ve escaped. After writing it, I’ve gotten trapped in the travel hell I wrote about Thursday night. Although I’m leaving this up as a scheduled post, at the point of this edit, I have no idea whether I’m even going to make it to my destination. I’m still sitting on the floor of the extremely over-air-conditioned Miami International. It’s midnight and I’m cold, exhausted, and unsure of what tomorrow will bring.

Claire Wolfe

First morning

Monday, February 22nd, 2010

(Sending from an Internet cafe that was one difficult puppy to find. Thank heaven that on this one day we have a guide who’s showing us the sights and keeping us from stumbling into the wrong places — which in this city do abound.)

—–

After a chill, miserable night in the Miami airport, I was finally on my way to Parts Unknown on Friday morning.

The first sign of things finally going well in a very un-American way was when the airline (based in my destination country) handed out free breakfasts. No $10 meal charge. Sure, the mealettes were composed of the same general approximation of food that all air travelers know and hate. But they were accompanied by — gasp! — actual metal utensils. You know, the kind with sharp points and edges.

You’ll be very relieved to know that not a single passenger picked up his butter knife and tried to hijack the plane (although I can well understand Kent McManigal’s point in a comments section a few days ago that, if sufficiently poked, prodded, inconvenienced, and officially assaulted in an airport, he could “kill with tweezers.”)

I reached the ground safely, and even before I was out of the jetway felt the embrace of warm tropical air. Home!

My second sign of things un-American came when I handed my customs declaration form to the agent at the counter next to the xray machine. On the line asking if I was importing any “fruits, trees, snails, spores” or whatever it said, I had scrupulously confessed to having an apple and a bags of dried fruit in my bag. Figured it was better to ‘fess right up and have my precious dried apricots taken away than it would be to have them discovered as contraband in a random luggage search. But the bored agent took my form, turned it face-down on the stack without looking at it and waved me toward the airport door.

—–

Now, it’s just after dawn on my second day and I’m writing from my $8 hostel room. It’s 7:00 and the air is already sticky, though comfortably cool.

The window next to the bed opens out onto a courtyard of crumbling brick, tin roofs, rusted iron railings, rubble, and ferns that grow from cracks in the walls. Makeshift electrical wiring crisscrosses the open space, as it does in nearly every ally and street in the neighborhood.

Lorri and I are spending our first few days in the old-town area of the city. For $8 a night apiece, we weren’t expecting much and as you can imagine, we’re getting what we expected. Our room is very … er, basic. The bathroom’s down the hall. You bring your own soap. The shower is one temperature — cold (but not so cold, here in the tropics, that it makes you want to jump and shout). And I’ll have to cut this entry short because there isn’t even an electrical outlet in the room. But it’s clean and safe and it’s leaving us enough money to spend our money on tourist geegaws and fantastic food, instead.

Old town is the strangest mix of horrifying slum and gentrification. To get into the district, you pass through barrio of a degree that’s hard for an American brain to adapt to. The buildings were once beautiful, in a sort of Frenchish, Spanishish, Portugesish colonial style. But now they’re falling down around their residents (who are mostly swarming in the narrow streets).

Once through that scary place, the main part of the district is … well, just like that. But next to those buildings will be their restored cousins, resplendant with balconies, cornices, french doors, and signs advertising them for sale or rent at big-city prices. We’ve already met one young restauranteur from New York who rents his New Orleans-style apartment for $1700 a month. And that’s only about two blocks from our humble hostel.

One block will be swarming with American and European tourists. On the next, nobody but natives. On these streets, I’m forever expecting somebody to panhandle us. But it hasn’t happened.

The closest thing to that comes in the touristy streets and plazas, where craftspeople lay out their wares. Tiny ladies of an Indian tribe, in full regalia, constitute the largest subgroup of these folks. And once they make eye contact, they will not let you go. “T’ree dollah!” they insist (though they may otherwise speak not a word of English. Or “Cinco dollah!” if they think you might be Spanish or Italian.

Lorri and I explain that we’re not going to buy any of their wares today because we’re going to travel to their part of the country shortly and will buy there. To a woman, they utterly ignore that, though we do our best to explain in bits of what we hope is common language. “Six dolloras!” they continue to implore. “You buy.”

Sometimes, we do buy. What the heck. We’re tourists after all.

I have to cut this short now because I don’t know when I’ll next see an electrical plug. But I’m having a ball here already. Ask me later whether it’s great enough here to make up for those repulsive U.S. airport experiences. Sigh. I don’t look forward to the second round of them on the way back. But I’m loving this.

Claire Wolfe

On my way again

Friday, February 19th, 2010

After being stranded all night in the airport, I was among the first in line when the ticket counter opened this morning. Got a confirmed seat number, so I guess my stand-by status is safely removed.

Zipped through TSA at 5:00 a.m., this time without a bit of patting, pawing, swabbing, or questioning, despite having a Deadly Comb in my carry-on. (They still have posters up here showing tweezers, nail clippers, and certain types of combs as “dangerous weapons”; I’m actually not sure my all-plastic comb counts among the forbidden. I thought much of that silliness had been done away with a while back. Deadly Assault Tweezers? Who knew?)

The frigid night on the terminal floor and some of the world’s most uncomfortable benches didn’t do bunches of good for my health. I feel as if I’m coming down with something. But a few hours’ sleep and an infusion of hot, sweet tea might resolve that. Fingers crossed …

Claire Wolfe

Passport follies

Friday, February 19th, 2010

(This is another one I wrote before the trip and scheduled for posting. Didn’t think I’d have ‘Net access today, but since I’m still sitting around in airports, I do. For the moment. Oh, the adventures …)

—–

If all has gone well, I’ve already winged my way over an ocean. If all hasn’t gone well, I may be handcuffed in some windowless airport nook pleading, “But really, I didn’t know that tube of sun-block was four ounces. I swear I thought it said three!”

Or worse, trying to prove, “No, really, I’m not that Claire Wolfe! Honest!”

But who knows? I’m actually composing this post five days ago and bringing it to you now through the magic of delayed sheduling.

So although my trip will have begun by the time you read this, all I can talk about right now is pre-trip discoveries. For starters, passports.

I want to show you something. This is the inside cover design of my passport, gotten four years ago before the fedgov started RFID chipping them:

Now look at the passport design of my traveling companion, Lorri, an RFID-chipped model gotten just two months ago:

Wow, that’s some raptor, eh? My subtle, symbolic eagle has turned into the real thing — and all beak, to boot. You wouldn’t want to mess with that predator!

Which is, of course, the point. And though I haven’t seen the rest of Lorri’s little blue book, I gather there’s more like that inside.

I rather like what this astute woman has to say about the new peck-your-eyes-out bird:

When I travel, I try to be the Complex American — a citizen of the fascinating, nuanced, multicultural, messy and basically decent place I know this country to be. But I feel like this passport blows my cover. It’s like suddenly, against my will, I’m wearing ugly khaki shorts and talking way too loud.

Maybe you already knew about that design change. I didn’t, though it’s a couple of years old now.

Did you also know that certain members of the government class carry passports of a different color than ours to distinguish those bearers from hoi palloi like us? Or that certain members of the government class get free passports? (Info courtesy of Wikipedia.

Passports, while not exactly an invention of the devil, have been used by governments through modern history to control the movements of citizens, as well as non-citizens. (More Wikipedia — although unfortunately this is a very incomplete history and doesn’t even begin to tell how modern control states, from 18th-century France onward, have used passports against their own people.)

But I’m thinking this time it’s likely that I showed my passport and got right on my way. If so, I’ll be posting more soon as my travels progress. Might be a few days between blog entries sometimes, but I’ll be with you.

Claire Wolfe

Stranded

Thursday, February 18th, 2010

I knew I hated to travel, even aside from (and even before) the TSA made things worse.

I am stranded in the Miami airport. I arrived here with — so I thought — plenty of time to board my connecting flight to Parts Unknown. But no … the online company that ticketed me set me up with “only” an hour and 45 minutes between my arrival and my scheduled departure. Turns out that I must check in two hours before the flight or no go. I had tried to check in for the international flight both online yesterday and at my origination airport this morning and was told I couldn’t.

(Yes, I knew about the recommendation to arrive at the airport very early for international flights. That’s why I was at the first airport three hours before departure this morning. Nobody — certainly not the company that ticketed me, either of the two airlines, or any of their reps who looked at my etickets — ever mentioned that I should have three or four hours between connecting flights if they’re not on the same airline.)

So anyhow, I spent an hour rushing back and forth between U.S. carrier A and foreign carrier B — who are located in far corners of the terminal — with each of them passing the problem off on the other until finally a helpful woman at A put me in touch with a supervisor at B, who helped me with a new, strictly stand-by, booking for tomorrow morning.

I couldn’t really blame them for passing the buck. Neither airline was at fault. Both ended up being helpful.

But then things got even crappier.

Foreign carrier B. gave me a certificate for a Marriott Courtyard hotel. I would have to pay (“merely” 80 bucks), but he checked room availabilities and sent me out to wait for a shuttle. In the next half hour I flagged down three Marriot Courtyard shuttles — only to have the driver of each tell me (in one case extremely rudely) that his vehicle didn’t go to that Marriot Courtyard. There are apparently seven different Marriot Courtyards whose shuttles fly by here.

But the one for my Marriot Courtyard never did.

So I went in and explained the situation to U.S. carrier A, who gave me a certificate — same terms, I pay, but they guarantee room availability, to a Howard Johnson’s. Even cheaper. “Merely” 70 bucks. Oh good. (I would be staying in a $8.00 per night hostel if I’d actually made it to my destination.) And shuttles arrive every 15 minutes or so.

Nearly an hour later, a Howard Johnson’s shuttle finally pulled up. I checked. Yes. Right Howard Johnson’s. Whew. Relief at last. I’ll be able to get comfortable, get a meal, and try to make some calls away from the deafening airport roar.

We rolled 200 yards or so. Then the driver pulled over, made a call on his cellphone — and there we continued to sit 15 minutes later while he talked. Not moving. And with loud rap music blasting out of two speakers on either side of me.

I got out. Walked back to the terminal. And here I am. The air conditioning is arctic and I’m colder than I’ve been in my little trailer in the high desert. Back there, there are blankets, sleeping bags, and heaters. Here, only a cotton and silk tropical wardrobe. But I’ll be damned if I’m going to pay $70 and put up with another hour of waiting for a shuttle just to have a few hours in a bed. (Especially knowing I’d be spending most of that time wide awake wondering if a shuttle will actually get me here by 5:00 tomorrow morning.)

To top it all off, this damned, wretched, unfriendly airport doesn’t even have free wifi. Nor does any business within it. Oh, but if I stay at the one hotel that’s actually within the terminal — for a “mere” $175 a night, I can get wifi there.

Yeah. Exactly. Like I’m gonna do that.

Instead I paid 10 bucks for a month of wifi from a private company. It seems to work, though the airport system it’s riding on cuts me off every half hour.

The good news is that there are now only 9-1/2 more hours of sitting here freezing my arse off before I can check in, and only another 2-1/2 after that before I’ll know whether I’ll actually be on that flight. Oh, and only one more TSA probing before I get where I’m going. And the “security” lines here are something beyond nightmares. Far worse than the airport I started at.

Did I mention I hated traveling?

Thanks for bearing with me through this rant.

I can say only one thing in my own favor. Apparently, several other American travelers were booked on these exact same flights. As I stood waiting at U.S. carrier A on my first stop there, one of those was screaming her lungs out at the poor airline rep — who was in no way at fault for anything. There was a time, years ago, when I would have made that kind of ass of myself over a situation like this. But now … so far, at least, I’m keeping cool (in more ways than one). And I’m glad not to be that sort of ugly traveler.

But OMG, if somebody gives me a bad time about anything around 3:00 this a.m. after I’ve been sitting here on the floor, leaned against this pillar all night, I really can’t be held responsible for how I respond.

All I really want is to go home — to my dogs, to the relative warmth of my icy highlands, to places where TSA agents never go. I wish, I wish, I wish, I had never left. I can’t imagine any tropical paradise making up for this kind of travel.

 
 


 
 

 
 
 
 
 
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