Thursday, May 31, 2007

16/4/07 Dallas, Texas - Zen and the Art of Music Marketing

In Texas more than anywhere in the US, anyone who doesn't drive a huge pick-up truck the size of a school bus is a sissy boy. Or it might be that those driving the huge pick-up trucks are the over-compensating sissy boys, I don't recall which. In a quick, unrepresentative sample, 3 out of 4 cars on the road were pick-up trucks. This did not include our little one which didn't really count because it was only about the size of a regular car. Ours was dwarfed by some of the monsters on the road. In fact ours seemed more like a "life-truck" that you would have in the back of one of the larger trucks, underneath the spare tire for emergency situations. Most of these huge vehicles were in pristine condition indicating they have never been taken anywhere near "off-road" nor had they had anything of in the back any significant size or weight, nor anything the shape of livestock.

We drove into Dallas, to a café that seemed to have healthy food. There we met up with Cath's friends from her old Zen group. The group included one of the Zen masters, who was not what you expect from a Zen master. I'd been thinking of shaven-headed, silent type only able to speak in terms of metaphorical wisdoms. I was expecting to somehow feel I had lead a worthless life laden with clutter. In fact nothing could have been further from the truth and I didn't feel this any more than I normally do. Although the conversation with the Zen master was about very ordinary things I was certain that if I had been asking about some deep meaning within the universe, he could have answered that too. Or at least been told that the answer lies within myself.

Also there was the mother and aunt of one of the two college kids we housed for their short stay in Amsterdam a month or so ago. We had seen very little of them and when we did, we shied away from taking them to see the seedier side of Amsterdam life (apart from taking them to an easylaughs show, that is). However it emerged that the aunt had hoped we would take them to these places. Half-dressed women in windows and shops for the sale of soft narcotics are pretty educational. We can't be sure they didn't go and see these places for themselves, as we never saw them during the day, and it is very hard to find a guide book that doesn't mention these places. Even in ultra-Christian guide books it mentions them, stating "Stay away from these places of sin!!!!" And in the Amish Guide to Amsterdam it clearly states, "What do you mean you are getting on a plane? Have you forgotten everything we stand for?"

Another important member of the group was Duck Bear, a pocket-sized bear who accompanies one of the top legal minds in the country into court, and no doubt offers secret advice from his pocket vantage point. Duck Bear is so into Zen he has his own contemplation cushion and meditation wall. Duck Bear has entrusted me with the important of task of having the British queen's residence renamed from Buckingham Palace to Duckingham Palace. So far it has already started with The Telegraph already printing the name:
"Duckingham Palace declined to comment last night on the relationship between the Queen and the Prime Minister."

After lunch, we popped into a Borders bookshop to see the latest trends in cat discipline and check out the huge shelf of Bibles. We even got to check out the guy dancing enthusiastically at one of the listening posts. He seemed to have that part of the shop to himself. After he had kept up the dancing for the whole time we were in there, Cath went over and asked him what he was listening to. It was some cat called Paul Wall, who on investigation seems to be a jewellery maker to rap stars who has gotten into music to promote himself (this seems to be what myspace is really for). It seemed very likely the dancer was actually just a guerrilla marketer trying to start a vibe at street level.

We then popped into a drugstore (chemist) just to test a theory that they now have low-fat, reduced-sodium, Atkins-friendly condoms. They don't.

Throughout the day, the main news of the day was of a high-school massacre. People are very shaken up by it. Which actually surprised me as in Europe, if you had to list the things that happened in America, it would certainly appear in the top ten. It's nice to know people are not so desensitised to this sort of thing. And that they happen less than we think.

The evening was spent with more of Catherine's relatives, this time a spirited aunt and uncle on her mother's side. There was much discussion on the age beyond which it is impossible to travel, with no firm conclusions other than it's quite high.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

15/4/07 Dallas, Texas – Keep the Red Horse Flying

Sometime towards the end of this day, we realised I had not seen the front of Cath's parents' house, despite having stayed there for two days. Every time we had gone in or out, it was via the garage (or gararge as they mispronounce it here). Just so as I could have a glimpse, and to make sure no one had stolen it, we drove past the front on our way round to the back and the gararge.

The equivalent area in the UK would be one of those new estates with multiple branching roads that end in scores of cul-de-sacs where every house looks exactly the same, externally at least. From the air in the UK, they look like My First Mandelbrot Picture. The US equivalent is much improved. Not least because they have much more spare room. The other reason is that individualisation within boundaries is highly prized in the US, and each house is built according to a template. You pick one of the two or three templates (both single and double storey) and then from a number of variables including brickwork, floor types, window style, etc. Of course the mock castle style is an option and in one template, pillars are standard. The result is that on first glance, all the houses are different, but on the second viewing, you can easily see that the models are, and what options exist. But at least every single house is almost unique, even if you will have at least one neighbour with a bungalow in the style of a castle.


Once upon a time, the Magnolia Building of the Magnolia Petroleum Company (later Mobil Oil) was the tallest building in Dallas. With its huge red Pegasus (flying horse), it was a shining beacon marking the dominance of the Magnolia Petroleum Company. Today it is about half the height of some of the newer buildings and looking a little shabby, like an aging footballer amongst the latest batch of basketball players.
Before our first appointment, we drove around a few of the sites of downtown Dallas, including the famous Children's Book Repository from which Kennedy was missed and the nightclub area of Deep Ellum (an African American pronunciation of the street Elm that stuck and became the name of that part of town).

Today's main event was a family reunion of Catherine's father's side of the family, mainly in honour of her grandfather and grandmother. Yes, the same grandfather who was honoured yesterday. It wasn't a coincidence.

From the 28th floor of the hotel where the event took place, we could look down on the Magnolia Building nestling between its larger neighbours. It was hard not to feel sorry for it.

The event was a heart-warming look at the lives of members of a strong American family and of its two figureheads. There were frequent tales recalling the days of segregation-era America. With stories of things you can scarcely believe happened in living memory of people in a supposedly civilised country. Things like the park in between the grandparent's house and the shops being for whites only. But the tale was amusingly told - a couple of the kids would go to the park which was sometimes guarded by some odious offspring from the white part of town and put just a foot into the park to tease and torment the odious ones. And had a happy ending - the park was eventually made open to everybody through an appeal by the grandfather. But still it makes the hair on your back bristle.

Basically, you could say I had a crash course in Cath's family and its history in a way most boyfriends take years to accumulate.

We ended the day at David's Seafood Restaurant for some contemplative perch and gumbo. And before you ask, David was not another relative but a man who likes to cook fish. Or rather he likes to leave the fish cooking to subordinates and wonder round his restaurant badgering the guests into telling him everything was okay. And it wasn't just David himself. Two separate waiters on at least three occasions came and bothered us with this enquiry. This was a lot even by American standards.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

14/4/07 Dallas, Texas – My friends, can your hearts stand the shocking facts?

We awoke early due to our bodies being on a different time zone and found a cold and damp day. Not what one expects from Texas. Especially when the Netherlands was sweltering in an early, lengthy burst of sunshine. This is clearly not global warming, but an example of the under-reported phenomenon of Global Swapping where one part of the world exchanges its weather with another.

The majority of the day was spent pottering in the great British tradition. Catherine had notes from her conference to type up on coaxing Google robots into your interlair and other such things I'll never understand. Meanwhile I had several words to put to paper some of them quite long and appallingly misspelt.

The main order was the day was the Fourth Annual African-American Educators Hall of Fame, a well-attended event held in large hall on the grounds of a big church. We were there as Catherine's grandfather was being posthumously inaugurated into the Hall of Fame for outstanding services rendered to education especially during times when education was not always easy to get or give in certain sections of the community.

There was a bit of build-up and introduction, then after a prayer, which I am sure was made up on the spot as it included the line, "oh, er, and God bless all the little children," we ate. It was after the food that the core of the ceremony itself took place. As well as Catherine's grandfather, there were 10 other inductees (one of whom was picking up last year's award) and they or their living representatives sat along the stage next to a picture of the recipient.

There was a multimedia section with an audio-video display explaining each inauguratee's achievements somewhat briefly and followed by a confusingly edited interview. This was my favourite bit because it was so superfluous and badly done. Superfluous as the information bit was simply a voice-over recorded by one of the two presenters currently on stage. Superfluous because the images were simply a picture of the person floating it around the screen using 1970s video techniques. It was the same image as the one used on the stage. Just two pictures would have made it seem worth-while, but instead the same picture kept coming at you or sliding from the side or fading in and out. The interview was superfluous as the interviewer was the same guy, and the interviewee was on the stage. But what really made it for me was the fact the voice-over sounded exactly the same as Criswell, who you will know if you ever saw an Ed Wood movie.

There were 11 inductees and several other special merit awards. On top of this, pretty much everyone else in the room had to at one point stand up and be acknowledged - the older and frailer someone was, the more often they had to stand up. With all this it ran a little long yet only offered the tiniest glimpses into each of the candidates' lives. But isn't that the nature of the award ceremonies? And fortunately most people kept their acceptance speeches short and informative. But there was information to be gleaned about these 11 people, some of whom achieved great things and often at a time when just to achieve what we would consider normal things took a great deal of effort and determination.

The whole event had a sort of church fete feel and was sometimes a bit haphazardly executed. In fact I recall almost exactly the same event in the film, Coming to America. But you couldn't fault its earnestness or its aim. And quite frankly I would have been sick if it had come anywhere near the sweet slickness of the Oscars. Although it did nearly reach it on the congratulate everybody front.

It was rounded off with a rousing chorus of the African-American National Anthem. It was the first that I had heard that such a thing existed. It caused me a moment of consternation about whether I should stand and sing. After all, if the British National Anthem was played, I would be reluctant to stand up and sing. I would only do so because of peer pressure as in if the whole room was British and doing so. If another country's anthem was playing I would resolutely stay seated even if I was the only non-citizen there. Here, however, to remain seated would seem insulting; to stand up and sing seems presumptuous. But this wasn't an anthem for a nation as in physical country sense, but as in body of people, in particular a much put-upon ethnic group.

Like a lot of national anthems it's really just a hymn. It starts very uplifting, as it should, but it ends with a good, solid dose of God. Being a hymn, there is always that problem that all hymns (and national anthems) have: Even with all the words in front of you and the tune playing, you still have no idea how to actually sing it. In hymns words are stressed, elongated, shortened, sung higher, sung lower, sped up and slowed down all to a random pattern only known by the singers. There is never any indication or logic on where to do all these different things. You just have to know. In fact even if you do know a hymn, but then go to a different country or denomination and they sing the same hymn, they will have a completely different way of singing it. You can try to guess but you'll be wrong, and find yourself half way through a "lord" when everyone else is speeding through a "giving me his salvation;" or you'll be getting to the end of a constant, high-pitched line about angels being high and wing-ed, when everyone else is at the start belting out a "holy" that lasts four minutes and covers 5 octaves.

Anyway, I digress. The evening was an education and nicely outside my normal sphere of experience. It's not often I get to witness firsthand an (admittedly atypical) slice of Black American Christian life, being as I am a White European Atheist. As Criswell once put it, "Can you prove that it didn't happen?"

Monday, May 14, 2007

Wii all play together

Wii, the latest computer game sensation promises to go supermassivenova, I am sure. It's got a lot going for it. The name, which is pronounced "wee" has all the amusing connotations in English, Scottish, French, etc which means a lot of people are talking about it and easily remember the name. Then there is the interactive portion. Instead of using the control stick like a buttony-joystick thing as with all the other game stations, you use it exactly like the object it imitates. Thus, when you play tennis, you hold it and swing it like a tennis racquet. No doubt there will be a cricket game where you hold it like a cricket bat. There have already been a whole load of Wii-related accidents, often caused by things like 4 people playing mixed doubles tennis in a room the size of a table-tennis table and with resultant smacks in the head, etc with the controller. This will only increase as the number and diversity of games increases.

Five Wii games I would like to see all having new uses for the stick:
1. Wii Rugby (or American football) where the stick is used as the ball.
2. Wii Hide and Seek.
3. Wii Wee-Wee Wizard.
4. Wii Monkey Spanker.
5. Wii Gay Porn Star.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

13/4/07 New York, USA – Taking a Toll / Merry-Go-Round

After Catherine's conference had run its course, we killed an hour wandering the billboarded streets of Broadway and enjoying the company of the overly enthusiastic staff at Jumba Juice.

We picked up our luggage from the only hotel luggage left-service I've ever encountered that costs you money and procured a taxi. The next episode was a series of those joys and woes life doesn't usually throw together in such a short space of time except on TV.

The chauffeur of our carefully selected vehicle was a Japanese American into shameless pop. We made good time through the semi-gridlock that is New York daytime traffic until we reached the toll for one of the bridges. Our chauffeur calmly took one of the many automatic payment lanes. Ordinarily this means the car slows down as it approaches the booth, some invisible electronics happens, some behind-the-scenes data transfer, some hidden checks, a manual keystroke somewhere in Madras, India, and the barrier lifts up. For us, however, there was a departure from the norm. After slowing down, there was no resultant barrier raising, and instead a stop.

A typically brusque New Yorker – most New Yorkers are good naturedly short-tempered – bounded over, grabbed the driver's licence, toll fee in notes and his EZpassTollPayCard™. He ordered him to pull up out of the way and disappeared. For some time we were waiting in the car. The driver was so embarrassed we had to remind him to turn the meter off after a couple of them. We had no idea how long it would take for the guy to come back. And of course when you have to be at the airport, any delay seems like a long time.

We also did not know what would happen when the guy did return. He could confiscate the car and/or the driver's licence leaving us stranded the wrong side of a toll, waiting in vain for an taxi that had decided to pay the toll without a fare. We didn't know if he was going to be arrested for some traffic violation or other and us taken away too as accomplices. We knew nothing.

Eventually, the guy returns and curtly hands the driver back his licence and EeZeePeeAyEssEss back to him, plus his receipt, plus the change for the five dollars he had given him. In other words, we were not waiting for a security check, for a ticket to be written or for a warrant to be processed, but for the man to make the change for the toll.

With no further delays we were shepherded to the airport and our charioteer dropped us off at the US Airways drop-off point and rode off into the smog. We had a little search for the correct US Airways desk, but were soon standing in front of it. It was then that we found what was to go wrong next. Although this was an US Airways ticket, bought from US Airways, the flight was operated by United. United operate out of Terminal B and we were in Terminal C.

Any form of transport in America that isn't involving you sitting in your car is confusing. US airports are large, sprawling and with each little bit autonomous. Eventually we found a hassled but jovial New Yorker fielding people onto the right buses because without him, you would have no idea which buses were the right one because they were all very generic buses that only occasionally gave an indication of their purpose. The first few buses were not the right one, and the guy told us so. Then another identical bus arrived and this was pointed out as inter-terminal shuttle bus. We hopped on were shunted over to Terminal B.

Here we staggered our way through three sets of school children to the United counter. By this time we already knew our first flight was 45 minutes delayed, making it impossible for us to make our connecting flight which left at exactly that time. Fortunately the overworked but gruffly chirpy girl behind the counter realised this and offered us a later but direct flight that would actually put us in earlier than we would have arrived on our original two-flight plan. Perfect. This was a flight we had not booked as the tickets were too expensive. Result!

There was however one minor problemette: This flight was operated by Delta Airlines and left from… Terminal D. But by then we didn't care. We had reduced our flight time, and halved our take-offs and landings and now had plenty of time before the flight left. Plus having been to two of the four terminals already, it seemed only right to visit yet another one.

So back on another bus we went all the way round to Terminal D. We checked in automatically and then went to the desk to check in or luggage. Of course, this couldn't go smoothly, not on Friday the 13th. The guy took one look at our tickets and told us we had checked in at the wrong machines. We had used a machine for no luggage, rather than a machine for passengers with luggage. The difference between these machines? Nothing marked above or on the machines themselves, but a confusing message on the second screen, easily passed over.

Dear Delta,

a) Why would you provide different machines for passengers with luggage and those without it?
b) If you do have a valid reason for providing two different sorts of machines, please mark them clearly on the machines themselves. Also make the message informing paying customers which machine it is they are using much clearer.
c) Please try to lean on the New York Airport Authorities to make their airports more organised.

So whilst I guarded the baggage against thieves, smugglers and terrorists, Cath went and rechecked in using the correct machine because obviously the guy behind the counter couldn’t fix this. We were lucky it could be fixed at all and we didn’t have to have our luggage destroyed.

The next thing to go wrong was far more sinister. Printed on our boarding passes in one corner were 4 S's. We didn't notice it, of course, but one sharp-eyed security bod did and shepherded us through the cordon directly to the X-ray machines. We were singled out for a special security search.

We never got a satisfactory answer why were singled out. It could be that it was purely random. It could be because we had our flights changed at the last minute; or because we had checked in twice; or it could be that we had been spotted in three separate terminal buildings – all of which is very, very suspect indeed. In fact maybe it was because our taxi had been seen parked by the side of the road just past the bridge.

I was patted down by a burly, cop-like security guy, but Catherine was not. It was our stuff that received all the attention. It was wiped down with small strips of cloth which were then analysed in some contraption. Catherine's shoes set off an alarm for some "chemical," but instead of us being surrounded by an extremely armed swat team, the girl in the uniform just shrugged her shoulders and said it was probably pesticides. Given how deadly most pesticides are to pests, you would think that airport security droids would be more concerned by it. But they weren't and quickly moved on to the next group - a dangerous band of suspect figures disguised as a jovial, balding dad and his two pre-teen kids.

Later on we realised that although we had been ominously selected for this 'special security search' with all the extra stress that invokes, our fears that it would involve a prolonged interrogation, public stripping and indelicate probing were unfounded. It actually meant that we got through the whole security circus much quicker than if we had continued along the snaking queue. So once again a bad thing turned out not so bad.

After all this, the only other possible thing that could go wrong would be our own flight delayed due to a hurricane raging in Texas. Check.

The TV news was filled with warnings of hurricanes and listed off the counties in Texas where it was expected to hit. They included Cath's parent's county and the one in between them and the airport. It’s a well known fact that hurricanes and tornadoes are not random, but as lightning seeks metal to conduct it, hurricanes and tornadoes seek out trailer parks. Such winds like nothing better than to meander through a state following the lie of trailer parks. In fact they seem to avoid everywhere else most of the time. Which meant that Catherine’s parents should be fine as their area doesn’t seem to have too many.

First the flight was delayed by 15 minutes. Then 15 minutes before the plane was rescheduled to take off, it was still not there. Then it turned up very shortly before the new time and a girl hurriedly announced our boarding. We duly piled on. Fortunately it was a small plane and boarding was quick. However, then came that news that the hurricane was posing more of a threat than expected. First we were told an hour's delay. Then 1 hours delay and a longer flight via a different route. Next the pilot informed us that the new route would give us enough fuel to get to our destination. However, air traffic control would not budge. It was their way or (stay on) the runway. In the end a compromise was reached. We would leave before the hour, but go via the longer route. To save fuel we would go slow. We would now be arriving at about the same time as our original flight, but on the plus side we had still gained in the fact we had eliminated an extra set of take off and landings, which is always good.

Oh, and more thing. Although we bought tickets from US Airways, but which were for a United flight, and got switched to a Delta flight, the plane itself was not operated by Delta but by Shuttle America. Confused? Welcome to flying in the USA.


The flight was a good preliminary refresher in Texan, possibly the strangest and richest of all of America's various corruptions of the English tongue. Was also good for brushing up on me Brummy.

For those of you interested in exponentorating in the Texan vernacular. The word "tired" is pronounce "tard"; "Line" is more line "larn"; and "in" is a diphthong, which is not an undergarment worn by twins, but when you almost make two syllables from one. It was good also to hear the expression "Holy Crud" in every day use.

To let you know, the flight managed to avoid the hurricane, but landed even later than predicted at Dallas Fort Worth airport where we were picked up by two very tired parents.

Headline USA Today: "FAA divided over airport near misses." Does that mean some people at the Federal Aviation Authority think they’re a good thing? Weird.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

13/4/07 New York, USA – Hall Cops Bench Coffee

Sirens are all part of the backdrop of New York. Every few minutes there will be a wailing a few streets down. Sometimes they almost flow into each other to provide a constant soundtrack. It's like the twittering of the birds in the forest or the lowing of cattle on a farm. Sirens are the reassuring noises of the urban jungle. When you don't hear them, that's when you know they're going to raid your joint.

We are staying one night at the Hilton New York. Not because we are extravagant but because Cath was already there for a conference on Search Engine Marketing. In fact although the Hilton New York sounds like a posh retreat, it is in fact a huge slab of quality hotel furniture in a somewhat newish but aging building. And every little thing they can charge you for, they charge you for. Even looking after your bags after you have checked out. In many ways, the Hilton New York is like Paris Hilton: tall, thin, expensive but not nearly as classy as you would have expected given the name.

Whilst Lady Catherine was at her final day of conference, soaking up the latest Google wizardry, I wandered around the city. Actually, at first I stayed in and mulled over some writings until the maid burst in made me realise I should probably head out. Well actually I realised this after she had burst in and then later bashed the door (or nearby wall) a few times. Plus who wants to stay in an overpriced bed when one of the most vibrant cities awaits your sardonic gaze?

Round the corner from the hotel is the well-renowned Carnegie Hall. Well-renowned mainly because of the joke. You know the one, "Q: How do you get to Carnegie Hall? A: Turn left out of the Hilton New York, left again then right onto the next street." It's not very funny, but it's accurate. It's almost as groan-making as the other Carnegie Hall joke. "Q: Where in The Netherlands can you get all of the materials necessary to make a full-size replica of Carnegie Hall? A: Praxis."

I had been expecting much more of Carnegie Hall given its renown. You know, the mock-Greek columns and pseudo-Roman busts beloved by American architects. But in fact it's just a regular old-school theatre. Or theater as they mispronounce it there.

On the way, it appeared to be letting-out time at the local police precinct. Dozens and dozens of police cars came lugging along the street, not seemingly going anywhere in particular, but using their sirens to get across junctions when the lights didn't agree with them. But on the bits in between, they didn't speed. It was more like they were cruising. A bunch of guys showing off their flashy motors.

For the next few hours, I wandered around the large greenish patch in the centre of town known as Central Park. The park is heavily populated with squirrels and film crews. Of the latter, I encountered three, although I suspect one of these sightings was an earlier one that had moved. The first one was filming a guy playing jazz on a saxophone whilst a boulder with a pair of legs danced beside him.

Possibly the most frequently encountered inhabitant of Central Park is the common New York park bench (Sedes Novus Amsterdamus). These are thousands of them; lining the paths, hiding near the bushes or gazing wistfully across the pools of water. There are easily more than enough for one per squirrel with enough left over for one for each member of each film crew. The reason there are so many is that they are sponsored. They can be bought as presents, memorials and even as a means to propose, all of which is indicated on a nice little plaque.

(Thanks to modern photography techniques, you can download this picture and add your own text to the plaque.)

The obese section of the population of the US, the ones who come to Europe and complain that the MacDonald's next to their hotel is not a drive-through, do not seem to live in New York. Here people seem regular sized. Judging by the labels on things here, people are concerned about their health. Their looks too. I even saw a tramp in the park combing his hair quite conscientiously.

Once my phone battery had given up the ghost, I was without a timepiece. It was now I realised that there are no clocks in this city. Odd in a city famous for people rushing around with places to be. Fortunately (or consequently) most people wear watches and asking the time is an accepted, even necessary, social interruption. In fact another tramp asked me soon after for the time. Wow, even the hobos in New York have places to go, people to see.

I took myself off to the city in search of cwarfee, the mysterious drink so beloved by these islanders. I popped into a temple of the astronomical deer (Starbucks) where I partook of a "grande" (or huge) beverage and listened to accents.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

12/4/07 John F Kennedy Airport, New York, USA – On The Road

Given how glossy everything looks on TV, in the movies and in the commercials, etc, I always get lulled into thinking the US is some kind of well-oiled machine. It's clear in term of transportation, certainly, it is not. Even roads, the arteries of America, are often in a terrible state. Pot-marked, misjoined and full of bits of car. I'm sure Iraq has better roads than the ones in some New York suburbs. But then the US has more attention, money and man-power turned on Iraq than any New York suburb.

The first houses I saw were horrible. Even the small ones were a designed in a kind of ostentatious but cheap way which makes them look nothing but tacky. Some are made to look like little castles or colonial mansions, but are the size of small bungalow. Occasionally dangling fairy lights would adorn the obligatory porch. The following houses were rows of tall, ominous red-brick blocks, which were actually more pleasing on the eye. There is a lot to be said for not allowing too much free expression.

I was taking the express bus service from into the centre of New York. It's a kind of taxi service with a fixed price and takes several people at a time to their respective doors. The service promises qualified drivers and ours was qualified in driving whilst texting back to headquarters. It was a good reminder that American Traffic Lane Laws are that the fast lane is the one you are in.

We drove through Queens, an area with a bad reputation and even worse roads. It's a very run-down suburb. The first person I saw was stood fixed like a slouching sentry, guarding the street, but staring left. I have never seen anyone looking quite so Snoop Dogg an' shit.

I was dropped off at the Hilton and went upstairs and found the Lady Catherine fresh from her day’s conferencing. Sometime later, we headed out to find food. We'd phoned ahead, but the healthy food place (called The Pump as they were going for a gym-going clientele) had lost our order and was now closing. They gave us a couple of free energy muffins and were very apologetic, which was nice and unexpected as I am used to the Dutch shrug when anything goes wrong. It being late not much was open except late-night stores and a few unhealthy restaurants, so we scrounged some less-lethal looking things from one of the former and returned to the hotel.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

12/4/07 Over Birmingham, UK – On Flying

The Netherlands is one of those small countries were within a couple of degrees of separation you know pretty much everyone. In fact if I go out in Amsterdam for more than a couple of hours and don't meet or see someone, I feel something is wrong. Also it often happens that on the flight I am taking or at the airport I bump into someone with whom I am familiar. This time I was recognised by a stewardess from a combination of the easylaughs shows and last year's Theatersports Weekend. We didn't get to talk too much as she was at work and constantly had to dish out things to people to take their minds off the fact they are defying some of the most immutable laws in science.

One of the best things that has been developed for airline passengers is the map that allows you to follow the flight. It doesn't serve any real purpose, but it really gives you a feeling you are involved. Makes you feel that you are not being carried around like freight but that you are part of the navigation crew. The other great thing is the digital film system that allows you to select a film to watch and start watching it when you want to. Not only that, you can pause it and speed past the bits life is too short for. In the old days (and on older aircraft), there was one big screen at the front which showed some inane family movie usually starring Macauley Culkin. The flight map is itself is not often much of a lesson in geography, but it shows interesting things, such as reminding one that the name Aberystwyth (Wales) is so long it almost covers up the town of Shannon (Ireland). I have often wondered in long nights in the air whether the inhabitants of Shannon have ever requested that the inhabitants of Aberystwyth shorten or move their name.

1 minute reviews:
Black Dahlia: Necessarily simplified version of the James Ellroy novel. Adequate, modern stab at Film Noir lacking substance but containing Scarlett Johansson.
On The Waterfront: Classic, noirish, small-time gangster film that offers some excellent performances and a pretty realistic story almost until the end.

Coffee at high altitudes tastes like mud. I have had the coffee on a variety of airlines, at a variety of heights, and every time it tastes exactly like mud. I assume there is nothing the scientists can do to make it taste anything like coffee. Things do not bode well for serious space travel.