Posts Tagged ‘Travel’

About as ghetto as it gets

Sunday, June 26th, 2011

I like to save a buck.

Great Wall Chinatown NYC

Outside the 'bus terminal': taken about the time I started to realize what I'd gotten myself into.

This is a nice way of saying that – about certain things – I am as cheap as they come. Over the years I have evolved my own personal sense of where it is okay to scrimp and where it is very, very stupid.

Okay:

  • Travel
  • Hotel stays of two days or less
  • Fast food (meaning: it’s all crap, so just order from the Dollar Menu)
  • Nail polish
  • Tank tops

 

Very, very stupid

  • Haircuts
  • Eyeglasses
  • Electronics
  • Dental work
  • Toilet paper

 

Great Wall Chinatown to York bus

The Great Wall bus is unmarked, of course, but you can probably smell it coming.

Thus, it goes without saying, I’m willing to endure a red eye or a long connection or even an airline I slightly hate (Southwest, anyone?) if it means I’ll save a hundred dollars or more. The way I rationalize it, the haircut is on my head every day for months¸ it better not look like a monkey did it. The flight or other travel inconvenience is just a few hours out of my life: I’ll suck it up.

Mostly I stand by this theory and will assert its wisdom.

Mostly.

Except for now.

<<< To explain, this post was written in large part on the Great Wall bus: super-ghetto, semi-direct transportation from Chinatown in New York City to York, PA (the nearest stop to my father’s home). I think I anticipated that it would compare with the unpleasant but otherwise unremarkable Megabus or GoBus. I was wrong. >>>

I chose Great Wall over my other lame bargain options because it was $25 (a $12.00 savings!!!), but what I didn’t realize was that I would be the only round eye on board. I also didn’t realize they would be airing loud Chinese movies overhead (no headphones required or, unfortunately, enforced) or that the whole place would smell like kim chee.

 

Custard Apple

The Cherimoya or Custard Apple, native to the Andean-highland valleys of Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. I had some in Hawaii once. It was nice.

On the upside, my role as token white person has garnered me a seat to myself: the only empty chair on the whole bus, as near as I can tell.

I don’t know why, but the circumstances surprised me. For starters, I grew up in South-central Pennsylvania, and I honestly didn’t realize there were so many Chinese people there. I don’t mean that in a bad way, I just mean to say that I might have guessed the entire town of York, PA had about 60 Chinese people, not that there were that many bussing in nightly. Good news, however, for those seeking Hami melon, cherimoyas, and bok choy: each person seemed to be toting six to eight bags’ worth apiece. (Thus, I imagine, the smell.)

Similarly, I didn’t realize transportation was so segregated. The rest of my maneuvers during my east coast jaunt has been facilitated by the spotty outfit known as Megabus: sometimes awful, sometimes perfectly great. Megabus sports a lively mix of white, black, Asian, Middle Eastern, and possibly non-human customers. There are accents aplenty and every hairdo from dread locks to skinhead. The bus driver will tear you a new one if your music is audible via your headphones, and they don’t cotton to loud cell phone conversations, either.

Chinese melon

There seemed to be several of these on board.

On Great Wall, anything goes. The driver started laughing when I got on, and couldn’t control his giggling when he came back to check all of our tickets. I had bought mine online – the only person to do so, of course – and their method of issuing me a paper ‘ticket’ was to take a photocopy of my driver’s license and have me sign it.

“A special memento to remember me by,” I told him, handing him the paper. “An autographed picture of me.”

“Special picture!” he agreed, nodding enthusiastically and giggling like a twelve year old girl. I’m not sure if he was laughing with me or laughing at me, but I suspect the latter.

Or maybe he just sensed that I had a full bladder and was pre-predicting my internal horror at the bathroom situation. Let’s pause and talk about that for a moment, shall we?

 

Great Wall bus plays Chinese movies

From my seat, en route to York.

1. You have to pee, so you make your way to the back of a wobbling vehicle rapidly changing lanes at 80 mph.

2. As you approach the bathroom door, you note that opening it involves sticking your hand into a splinter-ridden hole seemingly carved by a beaver.

3. Normal efforts are woefully insufficient: getting into this bathroom will require yanking, pulling, and tugging with every muscle fiber in your body.

4. Bus toilets – much like train and boat toilets – are neither fancy nor spacious. However, most of them at least catch the waste in receptacle. From the light shining up from below, you’re pretty sure that when nature calls on a Great Wall bus, there may be splash back…from the street.

5. There is no toilet paper, but shouldn’t you have presumed as much?

6. You didn’t really expect a door you opened by sticking your hand into a hole to have a lock on it, did you????

6. Apologies to those on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. If you foolishly drank a large Dunkin’ Donuts coffee shortly before boarding the bus, you may or may not have showered the windshields of several dozen cars with pee. It’s not your fault, really, but it’s still a little more third world than how you typically (like to think you) roll.

 

Dr. Bombay

Apropos of nothing, my friend's cat, Dr. Bombay, sitting at the kitchen table.

I’m not sure I’ll be rushing to avail myself of a second Great Wall journey, but there is one thing I like about my new Chinese travel companions, and that is – by comparison – I am Pamela Anderson. While in the area (the bus picks you up just off of Canal Street, because that’s the kind of classy I’m all about), I decided to get an I heart NY tank top. Tee shirts are plentiful, but tanks are strangely hard to come by. I finally found one in the back of a creepy little shop, and the female store owner was tailing me like a five-foot tall Hispanic man in Washington D.C.

“This!” she announced shrilly. “This tank top. This fit you.”

“But it’s extra large,” I responded. I wear a medium or maybe a small in ‘ladies’-sized brands. Extra large is, well, extra large.

“No. This fit you. Boobs too big.”

“What?”

“Boobs too big,” she repeated, pointing at my acceptable but hardly DD chest. “This fit you, Big Boobs.”

And with salesmanship like that, how could I resist? So sure, the bus may stink like rotting garbage and my ears may be ringing from the sound of young Chinese women shrieking grievously on the super loud TV above my head, but my boobs are (comparatively) huge, my bladder is empty, and I have a seat to myself. What more could a lone white lady on a cheap ass Chinatown bus want?

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You know you want it

Tuesday, June 21st, 2011

Apologies: the WAiW birthday party lasted several days and was rather out of control, and then there was the concussion and relatively brief hospital stay. Obviously, the coma rendered me unable to fulfill my duties and keep you posted. Rest assured, I’ve regained consciousness and partial use of my hands and am back on the job.

zombies!

Maybe 2012 isn't about the Mayans at all: maybe it's about a zombie uprising based in D.C.?

Meanwhile, mark my words: if there’s ever going to be a zombie uprising, it’s going to get started in Washington D.C. I can’t quite put my finger on it (tainted water? Freaky gamma rays? Inbreeding?) but there’s something wrong with the men there. I don’t know what it is, exactly. I can only define the symptoms:

  • Outrageous, out of control catcalling impulses
  • Hype- intimidating behavior aimed at unassuming (and, unfortunately, unarmed) women
  • Outbursts of racism and homophobia
  • Repeated bellowing of semi-meaningless come-ons like “Bad ass sandals!” (although they are pretty bad ass)

All in all, the net effect is that DC freaks me out. It does. My oldest and dearest friend lives there, and I visit her every year or two. I’ve never been a big fan of the place, but I always managed to find the humor in it all: how often does a homeless black midget hit on you, calling “You know you want it! Thankfully, never.  Well, except that one time in D.C. (And, in case by some amazing happenstance of destiny and chance he is reading this: no. I really do not want it.)

So anyway, this last trip was particularly harrowing. Me and my friend were walking home on a Friday night. We had already endured three of the four above symptoms, and I, for one, had had enough. Having lived there for twelve years, you can imagine she’s had enough – and then some.

Skull with hat

One of the images you get when you Google "short Mexican." I rather like it....

So we were headed up 16th toward her place when a five foot tall man (the disorder may also be stunting their growth?) of likely Hispanic – possibly Mexican, but more likely El Salvadorian – origin comes up on us fast. He doesn’t say anything, but gets decidedly into what is commonly known as ‘personal space’.  We took turns whipping around and looking at him with a mix of alarm and ferocity. In response, he would run behind the other one.

After a few minutes of this (and a heated, but hushed discussion between us during which we agreed we could probably kill him with our bare hands and her house keys if it absolutely came down to it), she whips around and bellows “ARE YOU FOLLOWING US!?” In response, he quickly sat on the stoop along the sidewalk and made loud kissing noises for about thirty seconds. Then, and perhaps not surprisingly, he continued his hot pursuit.

Now one thing I love about my friend is her dogged rage at sexual harassment. I have honestly never known a person to get so righteously furious so fast, and yet somehow keep it PG. Basically, imagine someone chewing out a dog for humping their leg, and you’re pretty much exactly in the sweet spot of her diatribes.

Case in point, this cat and mouse/ angry woman and kissy face weirdo thing went on for several more minutes. As we started up the walk to her place, she turned to face our pursuer a final time. Shaking a finger at him, her parting warning to him were more or less what you would expect one to say to a wayward mongrel.

“No!”

“Go home!”

“ Leave!”

“I said NO!!!”

“Get out of here! Go! Shoo!”

Whether or not he got the message or not is unknown as we ran inside and bolted the door, and I’ve been too afraid to check the “Missed Connections” section of the local paper. As another friend suggested, there may very well be an ad in there for “Five foot nothing seeks five foot eight. You told me to go home, and I know that means you want it…”

 

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The Usual Suspects

Wednesday, August 4th, 2010

As I believe you are already aware, I am in charge of three hairy creatures right now, and I am doing a spectacular job. Granted, they can’t speak English or use a keyboard, but I’m pretty sure if they could, they would tell you that I’m basically the Mary Poppins of cat sitting: practically perfect in every way.

Long-hair British Blue

Blueberry. Admittedly, one shouldn't pick favorites when nannying, but there. I said it.

Speaking of Mary Poppins, what the hell is up with that Nanny McPhee business? Admittedly, I know nothing about it/her minus what I saw on a 60-second ad spot for (what is apparently) the second movie, but does she look like a Mary Poppins’ wretched half-sister – the one who was raised in a dank, dark basement with a chain around her neck – or is that me? Yikes. So much for “You must be kind, you must be witty; very sweet and fairly pretty.” Today’s children are getting seriously ripped off.

Back to my own cat nannying, I’m a little slow at dishing out the stinky slop they call breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and I keep squirting the one with water to force him out from under the bed and ram pills down his little pink throat, but hey, I’m just doing my job. At any rate, seeing as this is my life for another week, let me introduce you to the crew.

White Persian cat

Charlotte. The oldest and mostly sweet, but if you touch her back she hisses at you. Weird.

Although the smallest, Charlotte is the senior cat of the bunch. You may recall her in a Poodle Cut last time (shaved body, big head, and moon boots), but things have grown back nicely.

Jack hates me. I have to give him pills twice a day, and he’s more or less decided I’m Satan. Jack is the youngest and apparently likes men. I don’t know about that, but – as previously mentioned – he freaking hates me.

Blueberry, “The Bad One” is my favorite. He is a bad seed, but he cracks me up. He was rescued and has some screwed up teeth, but I think it gives him a snarly “You talkin’ to me?” look that suits him just fine.

Otherwise, minus shedding EVERYWHERE and some inappropriate crapping (Not cool, Blueberry. Not cool.) things have been mellow. And mellow is good, although a little bit boring. I’ll see if I can’t conjure up some  interesting content for you in the next few days, but don’t hold your breath. At the same time, if you play your cards right, I can all but guarantee some more XXX beach porn in your future. Get the aloe ready…

Seal point Himalayan

Jack Frost. As you can see in his glare, he pretty much hates me.

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Cat on a Hot White Roof

Wednesday, July 28th, 2010

So today my role as Bermudian Cat Sitter begins in earnest. My friend is off to Florida, and it’s all on me. I’ve been giving the one cat, Jack Frost, his pills in a trial fashion (and he now hates me and clawed me good last night), and been warned that the other male, Blueberry, will do everything in his power to escape, get on the roof, and go down the chimney (which would be convenient if he survived it, as the chimney empties out into the upstairs bedroom, but I imagine I’m oversimplifying things as my friend looked at me horrified when I suggested as much.)

Kitty on a Dirty Limestone Roof.

At any rate, in preparation, I went out the bathroom window last night and staked out the roof.

I’m truly in no mood to be cat wrangling from 20 feet in the air, but I guess I’ll do what I have to do in the performance of my duty. That or I’ll try to lure him down the chimney with some Fancy Feast. It probably depends on my mood…

Speaking of my mood, I am a bit out of it and slightly traumatized. I got up this morning at 5:30am (having gone to sleep at 1:30am. Ouch.), rode to the airport with my friend, and then drove her car back to her house. In Bermuda, driving without a Bermudian license is not only frowned upon, it is wildly illegal and punishable with a huge fine. I’ve been given no less than three lectures on a) the import of not getting caught and b) what, exactly, to say if I’m caught. In other words, she put the scare on me.

And it worked.

That’s probably why – when I realized I’d screwed up and driven into the city of Hamilton instead of around it, and the gas gauge was on E, and I was probably f*cked – that my heart ripped out of my chest, catapulted itself out my throat, and took off in the general direction of the giant cruise ships. Worse, I almost immediately recognized the all-too-familiar-and-wildly-terrifying sound of police sirens. That was roughly the same moment I realized all the mirrors were adjusted wrong because she’s quite a bit shorter than me, and I had no idea where the sirens were coming from. And then the hallucinations and tremors set in.

In the end, it turns out the sirens had nothing to do with me.

Self-photo during my beach-to-beach hike yesterday. There are nine beaches - each one most breathtaking and postcard-ish and empty than the last - connected by trails just a few minutes' walk from the house. Amazing!

And, as I’d watched my friend get lost dozens of times in the exact same manner when I was here last November , I remembered how to get out of town post-haste. Once out of Hamilton, but still nearly out of gas, I tapped into my Spidey sense and almost immediately and semi-miraculously got myself onto the correct road – and all while driving on the left! (Diminish the accomplishment if you must, but it’s s extra-challenging while panicking.) Soon, I was recognizing things and reasonably certain that I was headed back to Southhampton and even did a big grocery store run before the ordeal was over. I didn’t fill the gas tank. I figured I’d save that harrowing adventure for another day – a little something to look forward to.

Lastly, in the interest of your edification and education, let’s talk about the white roof.  This won’t change your life, but it is mildly interesting: as it so happens, Bermuda does not have a single source of fresh water. It’s all rain, baby.

And the limestone roof is how they collect it. By law, every home must collect 80 percent of the water that falls on its roof and store it in a cistern beneath the house. And supposedly “there’s no acid rain here” and it’s good, clean, water and they drink it as it falls from the sky and despite the fact that the roof looked a little dirty to me.

However, at the moment – despite a wet and brutal winter – the cistern at my friend’s place has run dry and we’re using an insipid, chlorinated substitute that’s been delivered, and which I can only assume has been collected at some huge facility owned by an enterprising individual who had the good sense to stock up during a wetter time, which – thankfully for my trip – now is not. And despite the fact that every day Weather.com reports ‘scattered t-showers,’ I have only heard a little bit of rain a few nights ago…which is fine by me.  I don’t like rain on my paradisiacal beaches, and I can take some chlorine in my water. I used to be a lifeguard. I’ve ingested worse.

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The Candy Stick

Saturday, May 22nd, 2010

Apparently and allegedly, once upon a time, a friend of a friend had a blog called The Candy Stick. I have searched for this purported, supposed blog – both to give it it’s due and to make sure I had the precedent right – to no avail.

Barbara Fritchie Candy Stick

I think this is the same Candy Stick in question., now known as Barbara Fritchie's Candy Stick

Regardless, the mythical The Candy Stick blog was evidently spawned after a particularly disappointing visit to a restaurant called – you guessed it – The Candy Stick. From what I can glean, it is a diner in Frederick, Maryland that had received such glowing acclaim that the future blog writers made a special trip just to try it out.

As the story goes, not only was the meal terrible, but it gave them food poisoning.

Thus The Candy Stick blog was begun to provide a forum to bitch about things that you expect to be wonderful, but end up sucking.

Like flavored marshmallows.

And Ghostbusters II.

And George Washington.

Case in point: during my time in DC last week, my friend – who has lived there for more than a decade – was in a mood to do some touristy things she’d never done before. I wasn’t so much for riding The Duck (those amphibious sightseeing buses that seem to exist in far more towns than warranted), but when she suggested we tour the Mount Vernon Distillery outside Alexandria, Virginia, it sounded good to me. As she explained it, for a mere $4.00, we would learn about the whiskey-making process (yawn) AND GET TO TASTE THE WHISKEY!

You know how they say enthusiasm is contagious?
Clearly they are right.

This guy's lack of enthusiasm is also contagious.

The thought of drinking whiskey at noon actually made my stomach do a “Oh no, you didn’t” flip flop of protest, but I still couldn’t shake the irresistible feeling that this was a marvelous idea that was going to be all kinds of amazing fun.

Yay! George Washington!

Yay! Distillery!

Yay! Whiskey Tasting!

Yay!!!

After no less than an hour of pre-planning and enthusiastic musing the night before (technically the wee hours of the same morning), we had a firm strategy.

Thus, on a particularly wet and thus gloomy Monday afternoon, we found ourselves driving the 45 minutes out to Alexandria, Virginia and then nine miles beyond to Mount Vernon. We handed over our $4.00 in the weird gift shop, which appeared to be selling bottles of non-alcoholic cider, commemorative historical crap, and Christmas ornaments…and nothing else, and after a polite once-over of said crap, we were on our way.

Still excited at the prospect of non-existent whiskey.

I have a belief that if I bring an umbrella with me, it won’t rain, but I somehow managed to forget the umbrella on this journey and thus, it has rained on me A LOT. Yes, my post-La Paz bragging has backfired most spectacularly. To quote my dad when I arrived on an unseasonably freezing day, “I thought you brought HEAT.”

Anywho, standing outside in the rain waiting for someone to open the doors of the big barn-like structure in front of us – stop #1 on the Whiskey Trail –  double-reinforced my forgotten umbrella lament. While standing outside the corn gristmill getting drenched, I thought the wetness was the worst of it.

Once inside, the harsh reality became clear: we were the only people there, and this was a lengthy and monotonous historical tour not intended for the comfort of small audiences. Nonetheless, the show would go on with or without our rapt attention or whether or not we gave a damn. I spaced out for the great bulk of it, concentrating instead on taking super unflattering photos of the authentically dressed escort. Despite my efforts to stay uninvolved, I heard something about how the width of the space between the granite wheels determines the type of product you’re going to get – corn meal versus grits or whatever – obviously – and started laughing hysterically. After being scolded by my friend (who was fighting – with more success than me – to retain sober self-control), I mentally checked out anew.

Mount Vernon Grainmill

It's almost like you're there. No really, it's like you're there. And whether you're giving the tour or listening to it, you kind of want to put your face in your hands and have a little cry.

Eventually, we were released, and it was time for a pit stop in the bathroom, where we noted that they were really putting us through the ringer to get to the whiskey. I also stated my firm intent to drink $4.00 worth of whiskey (whatever that means), whether they liked it or not.

No pun intended, but spirits were high as we walked into the Mount Vernon Distillery, which I remarked smelled old and then learned was built in 2007.

Hmmm…

So much for my sense of smell.

The 2007 construction date was the first big clue, and it was sometime around the hot water bath that I knew.

I just knew.

There was no whiskey here.

This was a sham.

A ruse.

A double-cross.

A swindle.

No whiskey for you!

I was almost this upset when I learned The Olive Garden didn't actually have a salad bar with unlimited black olives. I mean, it's called the OLIVE Garden!!!

We were enduring a painfully long $4.00 apiece story about slave owner George Washington’s reluctance to get into the whiskey business and how he made his (probably slave) farm manager ‘prove’ to him the value of making whiskey, which was all being made by slaves anyway and obviously, in that case, for nothing. Pure profit, baby.

Meanwhile, as feared, we were eventually released from the fake whiskey distilling demonstration and sent on our own through a boring display of old whiskey bottles and quotes about George Washington’s liberal attitude toward drinking and some recreated old fashioned bedrooms, probably once for slaves, but no doubt much nicer than they actually were at the time.

My friend was hilariously (in my humble opinion) outraged as she had clearly seen photos of people imbibing and happily enjoying shots of whiskey.

“False advertising!” she bellowed.  ”False advertising!”

(I have looked for these photos on the Mount Vernon website  and would have pasted them here as proof, but I can’t find them. I’ll let that fact pass without further comment.)

Alas, there was no one to hear our complaints as the end of the tour is self-directed, no doubt on purpose to muffle the complaints of the disgruntled would-be whiskey drinkers.

At the same time, the argument could probably be made that if we really wanted whiskey, we should have just gone and bought some whiskey. With $8, we were halfway to a bottle (or all of the way into a few airplane size testers or whatever those little plastic bottles are supposed to be used for).

Ground corn Mount Vernon

I took this picture of the corn they ground as a demonstration to be polite.

But that would have been beside the point. It’s about wanting to go and have the experience and have it be all that you’ve dreamed. I remember a million years ago I saw this ad for The Olive Garden (back when those restaurants were actually something of a new phenomenon, and I’d never been to one before). From the ad, I had the impression that there was a salad bar in which you could indulge in unlimited black olives.

This sounds super insane now, I admit, but at the time, I was smitten. I wanted to get at that salad bar.

Somehow I wrangled the guy I was dating at the time into taking me there, and when the waiter came with the big bowl of salad for us to share, my date noted my disappointment. I could be wrong, but I think that when I calculated that there were only four black olives in the entire bowl, I may have even said something disillusioned or slightly bitter.

What I do remember clearly is that my fellow diner caught on that I had drug him to this sub-par Italian chain restaurant because I wanted black olives, and I remember him scolding me in exasperation, “If you’d told me that’s what you wanted, I could have just gone to Costco and bought you a giant can of them!”

But again, that wasn’t actually the point.

Thus, flash forward to May 2010, sober and disillusioned, we drove back to Alexandria with absolutely no fear of getting pulled over for a DUI, and carried on with our day, a little poorer, a little more knowledgeable, and most likely none the wiser.

Such is life sometimes.

You keep hoping the next Candy Stick is going to be the one.

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