Monday, September 29, 2008
The Bears beat Philly on Sunday night to go 2-2 on the season. We're two very reasonable plays away from being 4-0. Orton didn't have the best game, but his receivers again dropped easy balls and his best receiver, Brandon Lloyd, got hurt in the second quarter. Even the offensive coordinator, Ron Turner, the guy who calls the plays, only called a handful of stupid plays as opposed to almost every play like normal. The Bears went with a no huddle offense to start the game and scored in three plays. Nicely done.
Still, the game came down to two missed field goals by Philly and our defense had to stop them on 4th and goal at the one yard line. We won though, so it's on to Detroit!!
And there were pre-game festivities as well!
Northwestern Jeff joined me for the game. At least I bring chairs for my guests! Amateurs next to us....
This cutie was tailgating behind us and ended up joining us...with her two guy friends and boyfriend. Very nice folks though.
The Cubs start their playoff series against the Dodgers Wednesday at 5:30. Thursday they play at 8:30. Guess who won't be able to be reached either night? I'm so jacked up!!!
The Sox are playing a one game playoff with the Twins tonight to see who gets to play Tampa on Thursday. Win or go home. Even though the Twins had the better head-to-head record (10-8), they still lost the coin flip which MLB uses to determine where to play the one game playoff. Doesn't seem right to me. Anyway, that's the way it is so the Sox are playing the Twins tonight at home, where the Sox are 7-2 against the Twins. In Minnesota, we're 1-8, so home field is a huge advantage.
I appreciate all the comments about my coke machine exploits. I'm not entirely sure why the machine was so compelling to me. Maybe it was the thought of fixing it combined with free cash along with the puzzle like skills involved. Anyway, here are some more pictures from Orlando.
These birds are right outside the parking lot at a Wendy's!! They were right in front of my car. Pretty cool.
Probably part of the reason I didn't make it to the airport on time. This is a real intersection....not very helpful is it?
Today I went golfing and shot a 76 at The Glencoe Golf Club, a course that I like to play during the day because it's right off the highway, reasonably difficult and only $50 if you walk. You'd think I'd be pretty happy with a 76, seeing as it's 4 over par and ties my second lowest score ever. However, after 14 holes I was at even par and facing a 175 par 3. Having birdied a 233 yard par 3 earlier, this shouldn't have been a problem. Unfortunately I carded a 5. Damn. Three holes left and two are par 5's so I had a chance to make the shots up. I had to scramble for par on the par 4 16th after hitting a terrible tee shot. After draining a nice putt though, I felt like I still had a chance at 72 (my lowest score ever). Unfortunately, I bogeyed both par 5's after bad tee shots to seal my fate. It was a fun ride though!!
Financial bears were living large after the house failed to approve the bailout. Regardless of what party you like, it was stupid to not support this action. Even Warren Buffett said if he had $700 Billion that he would do it because the government could easily make money on the deal. So Monday, without the prospect of financial intervention, all confidence left the market and it sank like a rock. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed today and investors went bargain hunting to send the market back up 485+ points after dropping 778 on Monday.
Without the government or some other large body suppporting the bad mortgages, defaults will continue to weigh down banks and financial institutions and lack of liquidity in the markets will prevent growth in the economy and home prices will continue to fall as buyers won't be able to get mortgages.
When did Lou Dobbs become a nazi by the way? He used to be "unbiased" on 20/20, and now he's just insane. He was interviewed on CNN's website about the bailout and interestingly, he didn't provide one fact in his entire interview. It was all opinion and mostly just slanderous. In a really weak attempt to create the aura of respectability, he repeatedly references "economists and CEO's with whom I've spoken". Unfortuantely he doesn't actually name them nor does he provide any quotes or factual data from them. I really want to like the guy, but it just doesn't seem possible with his stances on issues.
Turns out there was a dollar somehow jammed in there. After borrowing a pair of tweezers from my hosts, I was a dollar richer and could now get my water. Joe up $1.
So I put a different dollar in the machine, which was now working, and inserted a quarter. Jammed. Damnit! The quarter slot was jammed too!!! Joe up $.75.
After inserting another dollar, I got my water and $.75 change, so I was going to leave it at that. But then I started thinking about the jammed quarter. It wasn't just ONE jammed quarter, there were a bunch of them. Maybe I could use the tweezers to get the quarter back. So I went back outside and gave it another shot with the tweezers. No go. They collapse upon entry into the coin slot. I needed two independent "blade like" things.
Answer, two butter knives. Quarter one retrieved easily. Joe up $1.
The other quarters were further back though and the knives weren't working anymore, so ended the day on a good note. After missing my flight on Saturday, I noticed that the machine hadn't been fixed, so I pondered my next move.
On a trip to the car earlier, I had seen a large paperclip. Well that could be fashioned into a hook that is just the width of a quarter I bet! If only I could find the clip. Back outside I went and there it was. Sweet. Now to bend it at just the right places to make a quarter width hook. Success. The next quarter came easily. Joe up $1.25. I'm single handedly going to save the economy!!!
Some minor alterations to the clip allowed me to reach yet another quarter and I was up a solid $1.50. Unfortunately I couldn't unjam the coin slot as the problem resided much lower in the machine than I could reach.
When your softball team is getting killed on the field, you sometimes have to make your own fun!!
Saturday, September 27, 2008
Those were both true, but they didn't help us enough. We didn't have a few talented players down with us this week as one tore his achilles last weekend when he got hit with a bat that was tossed out of the way (and into his leg) by the opposing teams catcher, another had another tournament to go to with his "primary" team and a third tweaked his back. No worries, we still had a pretty good squad.
Though our first game was close through 5 or 6 innings, I think it was 10-5 after 6 maybe, they hit forever in the seventh to make the final score 25-6. Ugh. We gave away 6 outs on the hitting side early unfortunately. This organization has a one home run rule at our level. So you can hit one home run a game, but the second one will end your inning no matter how many outs you have. We hit a home run in the first inning to take a 3-1 lead I think. Fine. Then in the third inning, our first batter in the inning hit the very first pitch for a home run, ending the inning. In the fifth, we had two guys on with no one out and we hit another home run, ending the inning again. So hitting in the 8th spot I only got up to bat twice and was 0-2, one good at bat and one bad.
Which took us to this morning, where we benefitted from yet another forfeit. Our coach noted that on field three in that complex, we were 2-1 for the week while scoring zero runs! We were scheduled to play on that field last weekend and got a forfeit and then lost our last game of the tournament there 4-0. This weekend we got another forfeit there.
Our next game wasn't as bad as yesterday's, but it still wasn't good. The power outage continued and we lost 15-5. My defense wasn't good at all today and I was only 1-2 hitting. Maybe it was the busy week or the second weekend of heat or what but I didn't have nearly as good a tournament as last weekend.
To top it off, I misread my departure time and missed my flight out of Orlando. The skycap tried to book me on the last flight that could get me to Chicago, but I only had 10 minutes to get through the airport, through security, on the tram and to my gate. I did not make it. The plane was still there at the gate, but they had just closed the doors. Damnit.
Fortunately I was able to retrieve my luggage, was able to get a ride back to the resort and was able to get back to the room I was staying in on Friday. So I guess, when all is said and done, it wasn't as bad as it could have been. I fly out in the morning, still in time to see the Bears/Eagles on Sunday night. Bearssssssss.
Thursday, September 25, 2008
In 1908, a ball dropped in Times Square signifying the new year for the first time.
The Boy Scout movement began that year.
Japanese immigration to the US was forbidden for some reason. Seems odd.
The Harvard Business School was established by Harvard University.
Mother's Day was observed for the first time.
The Fisher Body auto manufacturing company was founded.
Henry Ford later in the year produced the first Model T.
Taft defeated William Jennings Bryan to become the 27th President.
And yes our Cubbies last won the world series that year. But that's not what I was talking about in relation to the Cubs. Sure everyone knows it's been a hundred years of futility for the Cubs, but do they really understand how futile? Most do not I fear. For it was 100 years ago when the Cubs last.....went to the playoffs in consecutive years. Now you know the REST of the story.
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
The hair cream "before" picture.
Here it is now!! Perfectly repaired. Nice job MLM.
Remember when I said it might not be a bad idea for Liberals to vote for McCain because the economy will be such a mess that they won't get into office for 12 years if they win and try to clean it up? Not looking so far fetched of an idea now is it?
Also, I watched the tape of the Bears/Bucs game from Sunday as I heard many comments on sports radio which were contrary to my recollection of events. First, Tillman did have a stupid penalty at the end of the game, no doubt, but for the most part he played well. The defense caused four turnovers....you really need to win when the defense does that. Orton did not have as bad a game as the radio is making it out to have been. If certain players catch a ball in their hands (Forte and Davis), it would have been a different outcome entirely.
And Griese really didn't have a good game. He drove his team 81 yards in the final couple of minutes to win, but other than that he was pretty bad....though he had no running game for support and little talent at WR.
We trailed most of the game, but as a fan I always thought we were in control and/or one play from taking the lead. Eventually that play happened and we led by 10 with 6 1/2 minutes left. Our kicker, Robbie Gould, missed a 49 yarder which would have won the game, though at the time it would have only tied the game.
So the Bears are still a decent team at least with some good upside. We're just a play or two from being 3-0, just like the Chargers are...though we don't have the offensive fire power that they have, but then again they don't have the defense that we have.
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
My first shot of the clubhouse. The turret on the right didn't show up on the picture below. I think it's pretty cool though.
Much better picture of the clubhouse.
Taken out my windshield as I drove up the long driveway in the morning.
Another shot out the windshield of the very wooded course.
The foursome: me (in red), Jay(a potential future client and very nice guy), Andrew (the banker and inviter) and Ralph (the Medinah member).
It's not just woods, it's also a huge river and many bridges.
A typical hole.
It looks like a relatively wide fairway doesn't it? They seem small when you're hitting at them.
See?? This fairway looks wide! It's not.
This is a par 3, 245 yards from this spot which is where the pros play it from. Apparently Tiger used a 4-iron. I used a 3-Wood and just made it over the water, though I didn't hit it flush.
The tees we then played from were at about 195 yards. Still tough. I hit through the green with a 3 iron. Damnit. I shot a 97 with 39 putts...ugh. Not a good score, but I actually hit the ball fairly well. It's just a tough course. I didn't lose a single ball or have a single penalty assessed. How about that!?!
Monday, September 22, 2008
It was a beautiful day for a ball game!!
Tuesday is going to be a busy day for me...but fun! I'm golfing at Medinah Country Club, Course #3, probably the most prestigious club and course in the Chicagoland area if not the Midwest. They are going to be hosting the Ryder Cup in 2012 and have hosted three U.S. Opens and two PGA Championships. You can only play the course if you're a member or are invited to play by a member. That member has to be in your foursome too! Very strict. Should be fun. Plus I'll be networking as the guy who invited me is a banker.
At night, I'm going to a fundraiser for Kaleidoscope, an organization which Ricardo's wife supports. It looks like a good organization that helps out children (how bad could it be??). It's going to be held at Winestyles, which I've never been to, but it's at Belmont and Southport. Should be fun! A busy, busy day for LCJ!!
Sunday, September 21, 2008
So everything AROUND the game was great fun. Even the first three and a half quarters of the game, while the Bears were winning by 10, were great fun. Then the Tampa Bay Bucanneers rattled off 10 straight points to send the game into overtime. Even in OT we were in good shape after stopping the Bucs around their own 15 to force them to punt. Unfortunately, Peanut Tillman decided to get into a fight with one of the Buccaneers and got flagged for a 15 yard personal foul penalty and automatic first down. That provided the impetus for them marching down the field to kick the winning field goal.
Oh and just to make matters worse, the quarterback for Tampa is Brian Griese, the guy who should have been our starting QB all of last year and should have been resigned for this year. Unbelievable.
It was very disappointing. We could easily be 3-0, but instead we're 1-2. I'm too distraught to write about it anymore, so I'll change topics.
Here are some pictures from the weekend. Unfortunately, no good action shots. Next week I'm going back down to Orlando, but won't be on the Disney complex. Unfortunately we only had one game at Disney this year. With 250 teams, they held games at five complexes in the area.
This organization was USSSA....United States Softball.....something...Association.
This is the most overpriced cafe I think I've ever ate at. Close to it at least...which I guess shouldn't be a big surprise considering it's Disney.
Sunset over the entrance gates to Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex.
Just a cool picture, I thought, outside the complex.
This is the long trek back to the Hess Fields. The fields are sponored by the Hess Oil company.
Looking back at the Wide World of Sports buildings from the Hess fields.
Saturday, September 20, 2008
Anyway, we lost our second game of the morning 4-0! Yes, we were shut out. How shitty is that? That team went on to win their next game 6-1, so it wasn't just us. We ended up 3-2, one game better than last year.
More stats and pictures to come tomorrow, after the Bears game. The coach told me I led the team in hitting. That's pretty cool, especially for an old dude. Almost as good for me is that I only had one bad at bat out of 12. I either got on base or hit the ball hard pretty much every time. Practice pays off!
Friday, September 19, 2008
We were a bit depressed, as a team, but we had to suck it up for our next game at 8 on the Disney complex. These fields are pretty sweet, though they are baseball fields retrofitted for softball. Very well maintained, but a grass infield instead of the traditional softball dirt infield. Plus the foul territory, before the dugouts, is huge compared to normal softball fields.
As it turns out, we were playing a team from Illinois against we play in most touraments within the state and nearby tournaments, called Posse. I got the first hit of the game for us, under the lights, unfortunately I was batting 8th! We were down 2-0 after three innings. We broke through though and scored 5 runs in the fourth to take a 5-2 lead. We added on in the fifth and sixth to build up a 9-2 lead and we won 9-3.
While the game was closer, I had some solid defensive plays at third. In one inning, the third I think, I grabbed a line drive down the line between me and the bag off the bat of a left handed hitter. Two batters later I got a ground ball and forced the runner at second, but we didn't get the double play. A few batters later, with runners at the corners I think, the batter hit a foul ball towards our dugout. After running full out for it, I slid as I approached the dugout and made a basket catch for the final out of the inning. It was really a pretty good defensive play. Later, I started a double play on a grounder in another inning.
Offensively, on the day I was 2-3 in both games, not too bad. My outs were decent at bats as well, so I've been pretty happy with my play so far. Tomorrow is going to be a long day hopefully!!! We start at 9 a.m. and could play 8 games if we keep winning. If we lose though, we go home.
Thursday, September 18, 2008
The flight down on Southwest was better than fine because there was hardly anyone on the 8:40 flight to Orlando out of Midway that got in after midnight. So that was pretty good, though we had to find the houses in which we were staying in the dark and we missed a few turns. No worries though. We still got to the houses in good shape...before 1 a.m. local time (no waiting to get our luggage at that hour either).
Then the trouble starts. I'm staying with my traveling partner, JC. We know we're sharing a room with two twin beds. We knew we'd be sharing a bathroom with up to 4 other people. We knew that it was a step down from a hotel. We knew that there were four families staying in the house with us. We knew all that.
What I didn't know is just how bad the bed would be. The "mattress" was ridiculous and we were basically sleeping on box springs. We also didn't know that we wouldn't have internet access. We also didn't know that the towels we'd be using were so thin that I would feel bad drying off a dog with them....and unsuccessful at it I might add. We also didn't know that we didn't have a tv in the room. We also didn't know that the a/c was barely working. I also didn't know that there would be ants all over my bed. That's right....ants.
At first I saw one and killed it. Then one came up the head board. Then another. Then I moved the mattress and saw about 20 of them. Then I found them in the carpeting. Then I knew I was not sleeping there the next night. If it weren't now 2 a.m., I would have left right then. Plus the car wasn't in my name...so that was a problem too.
Anyway, long story short, I'm in a hotel with JC, with internet, with nice towels, with a nice bed, with a tv, with air conditioning and no ants. Yay!!!
Our first game was pushed back 3 hours due to a rain delay. Ugh. We weren't supposed to play until 7:50 so starting at 11 would suck. As it turns out, we were supposed to play a team from Texas and they did not show up. So we won by forfeit. Not jacked about that, but the night was easier than it cold have been. So now we play at least two on games on Friday, one at 10:30. Good luck to us!! At least I'll have a good night's sleep!!!
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
More information on Lehman going bankrupt: they had these collateralized debt mortgage obligations, CDMO's, which are somewhat exotic instruments. They went to the banks and said, "Hey, we have $10 billion of these CDMO's, but need some operating cash. Can you loan us $10 billion for current liquidity?" The answer? Nope. These CDMO's are whats tanking these investment houses as banks aren't valuing them at ANYTHING!!
Also important and something you can take action on: examining your money market fund accounts. A money market fund (MMF), one of the largest actually, indicated today that their "shares" were going to be worth less than $1 per share ($.97). That hasn't happened in 14 years and it only happened to one MMF. This particular MMF overweighted in Lehman and went they went to zero, their position did as well. It's a classic "run on the bank" scenario there now. The people who redeemed on Friday got the traditional $1 price. Today it's $.97. Tomorrow...who knows? They are already extending their time to pay out the maximum of 7 days.
So take a look at your MMF and maybe give them a call to see what S&P is currently rating them. If it's with a smaller MMF, consider moving it to a larger investment house (like Vanguard). There's not a WHOLE lot you can do, but now is not the time to be with a fly-by-night company....but then again, when is a good time?
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
Well, first, if I talk about the financial markets then I have to update you on Contango Oil, the stock which I told you to buy at $80. It went up to $95 and I apologized. Then it retreated back to $80...then $75...then $65....then $50...and now $46. Yep, $46. Wow. So what do I really know??
I know my hedge fund is worth about half of what it was 30 days ago. The price of natural gas, measured in MCF's, has dropped from $14 to $7.33.....so there you go. Contango is a different animal though as they were going to be sold and now they aren't, so it's in free fall.
So what you have going on right now is still tied to the mortgage crisis. I could go on and on about it, but in a nutshell:
1) Everyday people overextended themselves into mortgages which they shouldn't have been given.
2)Then interest only loans did their part to help fuel the fire as they reset and individuals' mortgage payments could triple over night.
3) People wanted out of their mortgage but couldn't refinance because they no longer had equity in their house because real estate prices dropped.
4) Speculative, high risk, mortgages were sold across the financial markets as A+ credit by using some "interesting" manipulations that actually made some sense when taken in a historic context. Those formulas used suddenly didn't work in a falling real estate and inflation oriented market.
5) Defaulting borrowers forced those who owned the mortgages to sell other assets to cover their losses in their mortgage position.
6) Instead of thinking in terms of one mortgage, think in the billions of dollars.
7) Selling into a falling market, caused the assets that these mortgage holders owned to be worth even less and they had to raise capital. Unfortunately, they couldn't keep up with the pace of the defaults.
So in broad, broad summary, that's sort of what's happening. AIG is the leading insurer in every market into which it insures. It's insurance business is awesome. Unfortunately, it's financial arm is out of capital and the concern is that there are not enough assets in the insurance side to cover the financial division's trauma. So now AIG is bordering on bankruptcy. If you have insurance with them, you'll be fine and your policy will be picked up.
See? There's really nothing YOU can do about this situation now. You could sell all of your mutual funds and stocks, but you'll be selling at closer to the bottom than the top so I wouldn't advise that you lock in your losses. Keep calm. Keep investing. Ride the wave.
Monday, September 15, 2008
As such, and because I have a trip upcoming, I'm ending my London/Paris trip emails. If you'd like to see the rest of them, email me and I'll shoot them to you. Good stuff.
So my trip starts Wednesday night when I fly down to Orlando for the first of two full scale national softball tournaments. These tournaments are what we try to qualify for all year. Our first game is Thursday night as there are 250 teams! Here's the bracket. Games actually start Thursday afternoon at 2, but ours isn't until 7:50. There is actually a game starting at 11:20 p.m.!! If we win we play Friday morning at 10:20 and if we win we play at 10:00 Friday night. So there are long gaps between games on Thursday and Friday. If we lose, Friday still only has one or two games, but Saturday will be a nightmare starting at 9:00 a.m. with games every two hours until 9:00 at night when there are games at 9, 10 and 11. Ugh. All hands on deck!!! Obviously the schedule is easier the more you win.
Unfortunately, Sunday is the Bears home opener against Tampa Bay(ironic that we're playing Tampa here and I'll be right next to Tampa). So I have a refundable flight home on Saturday in case we are eliminated already. If not, great! I'll be happy to even miss watching the game if we're still playing on Sunday. If not, then I'll fly home on Saturday night and tailgate Sunday morning.
Either way, it's going to be an exciting couple of days. The fields at Disney, if we get to play on them, are immaculate. It's quite the complex. However, with 250 teams, they need to play games at several locations, some of which aren't that nice. So you have to fight your way through essentially and the better teams get to play on the nice fields. The nice fields will host the early games of higher divisions while we're playing elsewhere.
We're renting a couple of houses while down there and I'm not sure if I'll stay in one of them or go to a hotel. It might be problematic having to rent a car and a room though. We'll see.
Sunday, September 14, 2008
Monday July 10, 2000
Subject: Coffins and the lousy Italians
I've made it to Nice and I'm at an "American friendly" internet cafe since the sun went behind the clouds momentarily and soaking up the sun is not possible. The cafe's basically a bunch of HP Pavilion’s thrown on top of concrete blocks and wood. That's it. But he serves American coffee, so I'm here for a while! If only he would turn off that lameMexican music. The weather was great yesterday-mid 80's with no humidity to speak of. Awesome. Today some front went through that has brought clouds in and screwed everything up. Should get nice later though.
So after the last episode of typhoon Haywood in our little box hotel room and bathroom in Paris, we checked out and did a whole bunch of nothing during the day before heading to the train station at about 8 p.m. We didn't have 3 hours for dinner when we were hungry so we went to.....yep, McDonalds. I'm not proud, but if you don't have 2+ hours at least for dinner, you can't go to a regular restaurant. Hell, if you don't have 30+ minutes, you can't even get a cup of coffee. The chicken sandwiches are not the same as in the States. I'm not even sure what meat it was. Ewww.
So we got to the train station in about 15 minutes even though we allowed for an hour plus. Oh well. After finding out that we had to wait until 20 minutes before the train arrived to be told the track, we headed for the big open area with everyone else--at least everyone else that was a bum and NOT taking a train. They seem to congregate in the train station--strength in numbers I guess. They didn't give us any trouble, but this poor Asian woman and her boyfriend, both American, were getting harassed. The boyfriend was bigger than me, but didn't do anything. The girl came over and asked the ticket person for help who, typical of the French, acted like this has never happened before and didn't know what to do. Call the cops you jackass! Jeesh. With the 30 bums downstairs don't tell me this has never happened before. Finally the boyfriend got up and yelled at the bum so he left. I don't know if I ever saw security in the station at all now that I think of it.
While we were waiting and talking to this couple from North Carolina, Gene and Jonna, somebody's dog went to the bathroom right in the middle of the station. Apparently, while I was upstairs where the bum was verbally assaulting the couple, some poor woman wasn't watching where she was walking--who really expects to find dog crap in the middle of a train station though?--and she took a tumble on her keyster. Now, I'm thinking, based on what I've seen over here so far, Gene and Jonna are going to leave, their train wasn't for two hours, before that pile gets cleaned up. Much to my surprise, an hour later the doo was removed. Of course in the US, the doo never would have existed and if it did, the lady would own the train station after suing or it would have been cleaned up inside of 5 minutes. Interesting what cultures put up with though.
So our train arrives and Haywood and I pile on looking for our "couchette", the French word for coffin near as I can figure. The aisle way doesn't fit two regular sized people, much less two people and luggage. I walked by one large lady and felt really dirty after squeezing by her.
If you're unfamiliar with these overnight trains, several cars are designated as sleepers with 2 people per "room" and several other cars are filled with couchettes, where the room holds 6 people. The rooms are the same size as the sleepers by the way, hence "coffin". Haywood and I "walked" into the room and just started laughing. My suitcase took up half the available space while it was standing up. It wouldn't fit width-wise at all! Three bunks a side and he and I had the middle bunk on either side. The slots were 6-1/2-7 feet long I figure, three feet wide and three feet high. I felt like a contortionist trying to get in the thing, which was the only choice with no where to go outside the room and no where to stand inside the room. Suddenly the room in Paris was looking like a luxury suite. No one should travel this way unless: 1)you're under 21 and you have 5 friends; 2)you're dirt poor; 3)you're some kind of fish that has just been netted off the cost of Portugal. While we were getting ready to go to sleep, Haywood chimed,"Have you seen my shoe? It's gone!" Which at the time, was just hysterical. There was no place to lose a shoe! Then in the morning, he was putting his shoes on and kicked me while I was in the other bunk, that's how close we were. No one in the room said anything to anyone else, other than Haywood and I talking to each other, which was odd since we were all packed in so tightly. Surprisingly, our compartment companions, all French, weren't very friendly.
Other than being really uncomfortable and crowded with strangers, this mode of traveling sucked. Think about it; you take a shower in the morning, check out of your hotel, go do whatever during the day, ride in this coffin-car all night long and arrive at your destination the next morning smelling pretty ripe. Not good. Oh, and none of the water is drinkable on the train either. That made brushing my teeth tough. Oh, they did have a "snack car" though--only 5 cars away. I made the trek praying that they had lots of alcohol, which was all Haywood and I wanted at this point. The "snack car" was two vending machines that had candy, chips and warm water. Great. Five cars worth of squeezing past people who HAD to stand in the tiny aisle, back to my coffin for the night.
They do give you a bottle of water and earplugs for you in your coffin at least. They don't give you much of a pillow however. Take your shirt off, roll it up and that's what I was sleeping on. Nice. You can imagine how excited I was. All we could do was laugh.
As When I traveled in Italy, the toilets on the train are something else all together. When you pick up the toilet seat, you can see the tracks whipping by! Yep, you're going potty right down to the tracks. That's their method of "waste disposal". That just can't be good. And the toilet paper's red, so I'm picturing these tracks with a bunch of crap and red toilet paper all over--we were not the only train remember. Thankfully, they don't let you go to the bathroom on the train while in the station--for obvious reasons.
Two days ago, we went to the Eiffel Tower and were planning on getting there early to avoid the lines. The great thing about Europe though, is that 10:00 is early to them. We showed up at 10:30 and had maybe a 20 minute wait to get up to the cars that take you up. It costs 62F or about $10 to go up to the top, but you can buy tickets for going just part of the way up as well. Let me tell you though, you HAVE to do this if you're here. It's awesome. Half the fun is the ride up which is scary as hell for the spatially challenged. It's a two stop process to get to the top and I recommend just taking the lifts up there one
after the other. If you are afraid of heights or just uncomfortable, focus on someone in the elevator and don't look down or out. Hopefully that person won't mind that you're looking at them, but if they do, big deal. The views from the top are just awesome and you can have a cup of coffee at the second stop (of three) which is fun. Even if you're afraid of heights, the caged in top level gives you a sense of enclosure and makes it much more palatable. As we left the Tower, around 1:00 or so, there was a line at least two hours deep.
Right after the Eiffel, we went to the Arch and I walked up it (40F, $7 or so) 284 steps, so it's a little workout. Just not much to see though, the streets surrounding it go in all directions, but they're just streets with shops on them. Big whoop. Even the Champs de Elysses, or I should say especially the
Chumps de Elysses, isn't worth viewing from there. Disappointing at best. The Chumps de Elysses is really disappointing after the build up it received in the states. Michigan avenue is much better and more inviting. Really, there's not much going on there. The only interesting part is around the Arch where all the streets come together in a big circle of traffic. In fact, to get to the Arch, you have to go underground and come up on the island where the Arch sits.
Finally we went to the Louvre, which convinced me that Brett Favre doesn't know how to pronounce his own name. The "re" IS pronounced at the end. I know because we rented the headsets for the audio explanations of some of the paintings—you have to do this by the way, it makes the whole trip soooooooooo much better. There is maybe one audio explanation per every dozen or so paintings, maybe more, but boy is it helpful. Like I said yesterday, we spent 6 hours there and saw maybe a quarter of the exhibits, about half the paintings. Fabulous stuff though--not as good in my humble opinion as the exhibits surrounding the Sisteen Chapel in St. Peters, but good stuff none-the-less. Now for another controversial statement: the Mona Lisa isn't even the best work in its display room much less worthy of all the hype it receives. I know what most of you are saying, and none of it pleasant about my artistic critiques, but in that same room is a full wall-size rendering of the wedding at Canna that is really incredible. Save for a better face on Jesus and Mary, it's the most incredible painting I've seen. The coronation of Napolean at Notre Dame, just down the hall, is another amazing painting to which I would give accolades. Not to mention Hal's (pronounced Hall) portrait of a gypsy woman. Mind you, there's a boat-load of uninteresting stuff as well, for the layperson, but some of the works are incredible. There's definitely filler items though.
Had a great dinner last night at an English friendly place where they served us in a timely fashion, the wait-er was friendly and they didn't try to gouge us for bad food. I have to explain myself on the food experiences I guess. In my opinion, you could have the same food at two different places, receive decent service from one place with relatively friendly people and infinitely slow service from the other place where the wait-staff is clearly disgruntled that you don't speak fluent french and even if the meals take almost the same length of time to complete, the former is going to seem to be much better. Last night
the food we had was very good, as was the night before, both took 3-4 hours, both were enjoyable--the pitcher of margarita's helped too. Two nights ago we had a four-hour meal that was just unbearable because of the wait-er. This morning we had breakfast where the wait-er was very nice and brought coffee promptly. A far cry from the smile-less wait-ress yesterday that screwed up our order and could care less.
Our hotel is quite the scene, let me tell you. Reception is on the second floor up a narrow spiral staircase. Each room has one key and one key only with a big metal thingy on the end so you remember to drop it off when you leave. I think this allows the people running the hotel to know when it's ok to go through your luggage. Then you take the "elevator" to your floor, 1-6, we're on 5. I say "elevator", because it's really a vertically moving closet. The sign says a maximum of 400kg and 5 people. Now, I don't know how much 400kg is, but there's no way in HELL you're fitting five people into that box. Haywood and I and my suitcase barely fit.
When you leave the elevator you're thrust into total darkness. Why? The lights in the hallway are on timers so you have to hit a square button in the hallway to turn them on, then they go off automatically. What's the reasoning behind this? I really hope it's not to save electricity.
Our "room" does come equipped with a "shower" and bathtub. Again, using the word “shower” is a stretch. It's a spray head on a flexible tube, which can be fine as the Scalfs had a similar shower head. Only Tom and Sue had a shower stall, meaning four walls. We don't even have a shower curtain! So what does that mean? It means the first time I went in there after Haywood had finished, it looked like a freaking typhoon had gone through the place. Water everywhere. I'm surprised he didn't electrocute himself. The key of course, is to sit down in the tub and try to keep the shower head pointed at one of the three walls that drain into the tub. Easier said than done as Haywood demonstrated.
Well, that's enough for today. It's raining again, surprise. Torrential storms last night. It even hailed a couple of times. Yesterday afternoon was gorgeous and Haywood got burnt. Then again, a sixty watt bulb for any length of time will cause Haywood to burn. He was pretty miserable to be with because he was pretty miserable. He felt better after taking a bath though. Of course, that meant water all over the bathroom again. He's making progress though.
Saturday, September 13, 2008
Here’s some things you need to know in
Par lay voux English?-Do you speak English?
Excuse e moi-excuse me, pronounced just like we do in the states when you were 8 and teasing friends.
Cest voux plait-Please
That’s all you really need to know because once they find out you’re not French they’re just going to ignore you anyway.
Speaking of which, I need to go meet him now in the park before we go to Notre Dame Cathedral. Yesterday we went to the Eiffel Tower—more on this trip tomorrow—the Arch de Triumphe—skip it if you visit here, at least going up it—and the Louvre—we spent six hours here and saw about half of it, maybe a quarter. More on my viewings later.
Sorry to have missed the Fourth back in the states. It’s a good time, especially in
I have to start by apologizing for some of the visual images I left you with yesterday, namely throwing a Frenchman from a second floor restaurant, dragging another one across a counter and hitting golf balls at defenseless sheep. The waitress yesterday morning screwed up our coffee order and instead of bringing a coffee with cream, she brought a double shot espresso and some cream containers. I'm much better now though and have not even come close to physical violence on anyone. Again, sorry for those images of me being an ugly American. It was the caffeine talking.
Important French lessons One of the most important words you need to know here is "sortie". Now the only sorties I've ever heard of are the kind we flew over
during the gulf war. Here however, it means exit, and the trains, museums and all sites are much more difficult to enjoy if you don't know the "way out". Iraq
"Billet" is also important as it means ticket and invariably you'll run into this word upon your arrival in the country.
Bon Jour-good day
Bon Swa-good evening There really aren't any other greetings here.
Arevoire-which I know I haven't spelled right is goodbye.
Friday, September 12, 2008
Thursday July 6, 2000
Hello all! I haven’t been able to write the last few days as I was traveling and yesterday was busy sightseeing. Now that I’ve hooked up with Haywood, he keeps me hopping to see the sights. Plus they don’t have Starbucks here, because they’d run everyone out of business a la Walmart in a heartbeat. These Parisian cafes are waaaayyyyy overrated. They call a café a place with seats in the sidewalk next to a busy street that gouges you for a lousy cup of coffee or a beer. We stopped at one place and it was $7 for a freaking beer. That’s fine if you’re in a museum or overlooking something beautiful, but not if you’re next to a nudie-magazine store overlooking the equivalent of Wabash and Jackson.
And don’t believe what you hear about the people in France turning over a new leaf and being nice. That’s a load of crap probably promulgated by Frenchies. They’re still as mean as ever and rude. I’m sorry, but I’ve almost kicked about four Frenchies’ asses here already including one “café” owner who couldn’t believe Haywood and I ordered separately. I hadn’t had my coffee yet so I was just one more French muttering away from pulling him over the counter and beating his beret wearing, cheap cigarette smoking, smelly little ass. But that’s enough about fun in Paris.
I wanted to thank Tom and Sue again for letting me stay with them in Peckleton over the weekend. It was a relaxing time for me, though probably not so much for Sue, who had to put up with me all day Monday without Tom as a buffer—he had to go to work and yell as some Belgiums or something. I was going to go golfing on Monday, but Tom’s shoes were a half-size too small and I didn’t want to risk getting a blister with all the walking still to do on my trip. I’ll make it back there again and golf a few times I’m sure. (Author's Note: I haven't made it back!! Damnit.)
For a country where you can still watch Battlestar Gallactica at almost any hour of the day or night, the UK is pretty cool. Granted, they have the garbage can issue (let me tell you how happy I am about that here in France by the way, cans are everywhere), but they aren’t as uptight as Americans at least in advertising and such. There was one internet service ad that simply said “Click Ass”. I thought it was hysterical. Another one for some kind of internet gift site said, “Surprise your girlfriend, take her sister to Paris." That’s probably funnier when you’re at a smelly tube stop than at your desk reading this message. By the way, if you’re wondering whatever happened to Patrick Duffy and Richard Thomas (John-Boy from the Waltons), they’re over here doing theater. I hear they’re starring on a new, lost episode of Battlestar Gallactica. It’s a shame I left the country.
Tube musings fin
“Mind the Gap”, you hear it everywhere and can even get it on t-shirts. It means don’t fall into the six inch space between the train and the platform. Here’s a thought, instead of saying this 10 million times a day over a loud speaker in the tube, why don’t you build the freaking train platforms so there isn’t a gap to mind? Is that so hard? They're made of wood for God's sake. Just add some lumber!! Everyone else does it. Jeesh.
The last train I took from Kings Crossing to Piccadily for changing to the Waterloo station had, as hand supports, springs with knobs on them dangling from the ceiling. I don’t think I have to tell you how stupid this looked, you can probably visualize it for yourself. Worst of all, they didn’t offer any resistance at all. They must have been in place for forty years and the people who used them might as well have been using linguine noodles for support. The part that really ticked me off was a little old lady standing up directly in front of some 12 year-old kid with his parents and was trying to hang on to this springy knob thing. Not only did the bastard kid not get up and giver here his seat, but his parents didn’t make him. I wanted to go over and yell at all three of them, but my stop came up and I had to get off. One hundred more steps and two big bags of luggage. Come on guys, let’s try to understand the concept of escalators.
Not as exciting as I would have hoped. If you haven’t taken a high-speed train before, you need to make reservations like an airplane and you wait in a special airport-like terminal. It’s nice and the train really zips along once you get to the Chunnel and into France. In England, it’s just like every other train. There isn’t much to say about the Chunnel really. It’s dark for a half hour and then you’re in France. No biggee. Once in France, the train cranks it up a notch and you’re really moving. Seems like the same speed as a plane before it takes off as it shoots down the runway. Unfortunately there’s not much to say about the landscape in France on the way to Paris either. Looks a lot like England, without the sheep. Thankfully. Some of those sheep in Scalf’s backyard were getting pretty brave, openly mocking me while I chipped around their backyard with some golf balls. They didn’t like it so much when I pulled out Tom’s 3-wood though. Never seen sheep run like that.
On the train to Paris, I had my first encounter with a real live Frenchie. She sat right next to me, so of course I tried to strike up a conversation. She didn’t speak English though (she was Venezuelan living in Paris) so for three hours she sat there without saying a word or even trying to communicate. Welcome to France!
Thursday, September 11, 2008
In my ongoing tribute to Ricardo and wife being in London, I'm reprising the emails I sent home during my trip to both London and Paris. This is entry #4:
It's Sunday, time for Church
-Ok, none of that had to do with any experience you'll have in the
-So we're driving up to
driver is exposed to your view. Here, the wheel is on the other side so you see a passenger. Yesterday a truck with no one driving drove by the living room. Very strange.
-Anyway, here's some things I learned about driving: Speed signs are posted in miles per hour. They also use yards, no meters. But they also use liter's, Celsius and stone's for weight. You figure it out.
Signs with blue circles and x's in them mean no parking. Duh.
Another sign: "Caution experimental traffic scheme ahead" What!! What the hell is that? What do you mean "experimental"? Does everyone have to suddenly drive on the other side of the road or backwards or some crazy kind of shit like that? You're already driving on the wrong side of the road as it is what are you experimenting with?
"Humps next 200 yards", ok if you insist. Thank goodness I have a hands-free cell phone.
-Here's a different thought. I'm going to see this castle, in
-The sheep have left me alone. For now.
-Tom drove me down a "lane" today. If he, or someone else, offers to do this for you, beg them not to and then leave their company. These "lanes" are really just places of death. They are narrow "roads" with high weeds on either side so you can't possibly see what the hell is coming. Then, the locals, knowing that only tourists come down these hell-roads, go 70+ mph around sharp curves thinking no one is going to be there. Nice.
-One correction by the way. Tom and Sue live in Peckleton, not Leicester. Saying they live in Leicester, while not like saying someone in Naperville lives in Chicago, it is like saying someone in Woodridge lives in Naperville. Just as offensive.
-Last night we had Indian food, at my request. Eighteen pounds for enough food to stuff three people. Much better value than London and tasty food too!
-The sheep are watching again.
Wednesday, September 10, 2008
Subject: Time traveling
Hello again! Day four of my trip abroad led to more interesting discoveries. First though, some more musings on London that I failed to mention in my past emails.
-Yes, there's more info on the Tube. To leave the Tube, follow the "Way Out" signs. These will not lead you to the Beatles like band from The Flinstones (does anyone get that reference?), rather it eventually leads you out of the station. What do Londoners have against articles like "the" as in "the way out"?
I don't know and no one seemed interested in telling me. I saw plenty more screwed up signs today though.
-The train lines are color-coded and have their end-destinations as the name of the line, which is very similar to the trains in
Bats in the belfry
-So today I get up because I hear a cock crowing. Now...that doesn't seem unreasonable since Tom and Sue live on a farm as I've mentioned right? Fine, only Tom and Sue categorically deny that there's a rooster on the farm and that they have never heard one. Which means one of three things: 1) there is a rooster and Tom and Sue are deaf. 2) there is no rooster and I was really whacked out because of the Boddington's I had last night and imagined the whole thing. 3) somebody is making rooster noises at in the morning outside my window. I don't know about you, but I sure hope it's 1 or 2.
-After making scrambled eggs for breakfast, with Leicester cheese no less, I was sitting at the kitchen table while Sue ate breakfast and fed Rachel. Sure, I could have helped out there, but I'd probably do something wrong and Rachel would end up crying and Tom and Sue would end up hating me. Anyway, this was no ordinary breakfast. First, Sue, who was raised on a farm mind you, doesn't eat eggs or drink milk. Ok, it's because the farmers do SOMETHING to those animals and she knows it right? Nope, at least she's not spilling if that's true. So she doesn't want my eggs, which is fine--more for me--but she does want cereal. Yep, cereal, no milk. My mouth was agape the whole meal.
So I'm staring out the window because I can't watch the heresy going on at the table and I see the couple next door pulling out a ladder to, how it appears at least, to change a light bulb outside the barn. These folks are 70+ so I throw on my tennis shoes so I can go do it for them. Well, before I get my shoes on, the lady is climbing the stairs and opens this birdhouse like door (it looks like one of those doors that may have been used for hay or something at one time, but now there's a whole cut out like a bird house). So she's back down by the time I get ready and apparently they're pretty active, so no harm no foul.
Well it turns out she was putting a baby BAT back up there because they think that's their nesting area and they found the baby in the garden (probably because they've been up for 5 hours doing stuff even though it was only 8:30--old people get that way you know). That's not the only bat story I have oddly enough. Last night, after I sent my email out, we were watching movies (Mask of Zorro with Catherine Zeta Jones (sp?) and Something About Mary---guess who picked the movies?) and during Zorro I kept seeing something moving by the window. At first I blamed the Boddington's, but then I realized that it was in fact bats. Tom has one big room with a 12' wall or so that's 18' high and almost all glass, this is the wall the sheep stare at me through by the way. They're doing it right now, but I won't look at them. I won't give them the satisfaction. Anyway, the bats were swooping by every couple of seconds eating insects. It was really cool to see.