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My Critique of Friendship Nepal Tour Company

2Amanda, Kenny, John, and I elected to use Friendship for their 15-day “Best of Nepal” tour. Here is their itinerary and my thoughts on each day.

Day 1: Arrive Kathmandu

We will arrive at Tribhuwan International Airport, Kathmandu. You will be welcomed and transferred to your hotel for an overnight stay.

After spending the past two days in sunny Dubai, landing in dark, foggy Kathmandu was a shock. Our friendly tour guide Ramish was there to meet us, thank God. My first impressions… I wasn’t ready for 15 days in Nepal.

The drive to the hotel in the nice, “touristy” Thamel part of town did little to ease the nervousness. We decided to roam the streets and grab a drink and found Jatra. After a kick ass meal and beers for $5, we felt a little better, even though Jatra was ranked 205 out of 209 things to do in Kathmandu by Trip Advisor. The hotel was meager accommodation to say the least. Eddie Murphy would have loved it in Coming to America when finding a Queen. We questioned the tour company and what we were in for but later we realized that our place was actually on the higher end of places to stay. The options were just that terrible. It was like Locked Up Abroad Caracas style. We wouldn’t see clean sheets until we got back to New York.

Day 2: Kathmandu – Nagarkot

 After a welcome breakfast we will take you on a half-day sightseeing tour in Kathmandu Valley. Here we will visit Pashupatinath Temple, one of the most important Hindu temples in Nepal. We will keep walking to see the magnificent Buddha (also known as Boudhanath), the largest Stupa in Nepal. Afterwards we take a ride on to Bhaktapur, a truly fascinating town. We will visit Bhaktapur’s Dubar Square, which features a unique Victorian illustration style within the temples. We will take a route connecting to Nagarkot, and once here we will stay overnight at a hotel.

4Pashupatinath was one of the highlights of the trip and the very first thing we did. We experienced the entire spectrum of human emotions in a matter of seconds. First we got to watch monkeys frolic but then a funeral procession passed and we watch many bodies prepped and cremated along the riverside. Frail toothless homeless women begged for pennies while joyous children played with whatever they could find, mostly rocks and trash.

The little hotel near Nagarkot was up in the mountains, though they call them “hills.” We were above the clouds in any case. It was gorgeous. You’d pay around $1500 a night for the same set up and view in Hawaii. Our hotel was about $40. Nepal was growing on us. We agreed Heisenberg should have hid out here.

Day 3: Nagarkot – Kathmandu

 After breakfast we will return to Kathmandu to enjoy a full day sightseeing at Kathmandu Durbar Square. Whilst here we will visit the place of the Malla, and the Shah Kings of Nepal. We also visit Kumari Temple – house of the virgin goddess – and the Swoyambhunath, a stupa on the top of hill. From here you can overlook unforgettable scenery of Kathmandu. For the perfect end to the day we will visit Patan city, the second largest town in the valley. Whilst here we will stay overnight at a hotel.

20This is was probably my least favorite day. The dust, pollution, and insanity of Kathmandu was grating. The temples and stupas were all starting to blend into one and I felt a little over it. Being in the house of the living Goddess was cool but we didn’t get to see the little virgin, she was hiding I guess. The monkey temple was fun but I preferred the monkeys from the day before better. Amanda got screamed out by her second and third monkeys today.

36Patan was like walking back into another era. It was flooded by Chinese tourists but still an amazing place. Being on the rooftops of the buildings where all the local kids were flying homemade kites was one of my favorite moments of the trip. Then we went back to Kathmandu and went to the very highly rated Fire and Ice pizzeria(#16 in Trip Advisor for Kathmandu.) Some people on the review page even said it was the best pizza in the world outside of Italy. They specifically called out NYC pizza and trashed it. We had to see for ourselves after that. Result… it was mediocre and NYC pizza has nothing to worry about in the pecking order for best pizza in the world outside of Italy.

Day 4: Kathmandu – Chitwan

 After breakfast we will travel over beautiful land from Kathmandu to Chitwan National Park. Whilst here you will enjoy truly remarkable scenery and you will get the chance to embrace the unique wildlife of the area. We will stay overnight at a hotel in Chitwan.

16The drive was long and annoying. Yeah, it was beautiful driving along the river but the highway system leaves alot to be desired. You can’t lose focus for a single second if you’re driving in Nepal. Everyone is trying to pass each other, no one stays on the correct side of the road, people are in the road, cows are in the road, sleeping dogs are in the middle of the road. Shockingly we only saw three accidents and one dead dog. We thanked God that Friendship tour provided us with a comfy van with a very skilled driver. We traveled in relative comfort.

We got to Chitwan national park and then to our hotel, which was heavenly. It felt like we were an a tropical island with all the greenery, butterflies, and palm trees. Of course monkey fights on our roof kept us up at night. Within an hour of getting to the hotel we were on our arranged evening walk which included visiting elephants and watching crocodiles. We had a great meal on the beach as the sun set.

Day 5: Chitwan

 After breakfast in the Hotel we will enjoy a full day of safari activities in Royal Chitwan national Park. Here guests can embrace nature and catch glimpses of rare creatures, such as rhinoceroses, Chitwan’s royal Bengal tigers, leopards and monkeys. We strongly recommend you bring a camera, preferably with a telephoto lens. We will retire to the hotel at the end of our day.

120Pick up was very early. We had an iffy canoe ride in an infested river and then a hot humid walk through the jungle, trying our best to avoid the leeches. We were on the look out for tigers and rhinos. We got to see a lazy male rhino chilling in a pond. That was amazing. There was an optional elephant bath for 300 rupees ($3.) I declined but took pics of Amanda and Kenny doing it.

112Later in the day we had an elephant ride deeper into the park in hopes of seeing more animals. We found a baby rhino with her mom and some boars. No tigers. The elephant ride was very uncomfortable and none of us were impressed with the way the elephants were treated. The hour on the elephant was the only hour of the trip I wanted to have back and erase from my memory. Seeing the rhinos was the silver lining. Back at the hotel that night it felt like a hostel. We had a group of European friends we drank and swapped stories with. We all have new Facebook friends.

Day 6: Chitwan – Lumbini

After breakfast we travel overland to the Lumbini, the birthplace of Lord Buddha and a place of holy pilgrimage. Lumbini has been included as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.  Upon arrival at Lumbini we transfer you to the hotel, check-in and then we go walking through the Sacred Lumbini Garden. This remarkable place is the Buddha’s birthplace and converges on the Ashoka pillar. Here we will visit the Maya Devi Temple with its bas-relief sculpture. We will stay here overnight at a Hotel.

134Lumbini is a pretty boring place. It was very cool to see the birthplace of Buddha, but I’m not sure if it warrants a huge diversion to the Indian border just to make it happen. They really need to think about moving the site to somewhere more accessible for all us non Buddhists. I was happy to have a slow day because it made me realize just how jam-packed every other day had been. We had seen alot of good stuff and we’d only been in the country less than a week. Lumbini put it all in perspective.

Day 7: Lumbini – Pokhara 

After breakfast we drive to Pokhara. Here we will enjoy a half-day sightseeing in Pokhara city, the most popular destination in Nepal after Kathmandu. We spend the morning enjoying a trip along the bank of Phewa Lake, where you can admire a stunning view of the Fish Tail’s Peak reflected in the silver surface of the water. You can also see the wonderful Annapurna panorama, which forms a superb backdrop to Pokhara from the lake. Aside from Phewa Lake, we will visit the Seti River gorge. Here we will see Mahendra Gufa, one of the highlights of the trip and a place that used to be well known for its stalactites. We will stay overnight at a hotel here, and enjoy an evening walk around Lakeside Market.

144This was the drive from hell. I was three breaths away from getting car sick going on and down and back and forth. We didn’t travel that far in terms of kilometers but we drove for six hours with only one short break. We were also without our faithful leader Ramish for the Chitwan part of the trip. We missed him terribly. The driver was still with us, obviously, but his English wasn’t nearly as good as Ramish’s. We were to meet back up with him in Pokhara and that moment couldn’t come soon enough.

At the foothills of the Himalayas is Pokhara. It’s a major city but feels much kinder than Kathmandu. It’s a travelers’ mecca. People about to enter the mountains are there to get one last good sleep and supplies, those coming out of their treks are indulging in massages and “fancy” toilets.

130We stayed in the same gorgeous hotel before and after our 5-day trek into the mountains. I felt like our first night there we were kids and the second night we were hardened adults. We took advantage of Pokhara and got everything we could possibly need for 5 days in the mountains. I got a new backpack, a camping towel, a sleeping bag, and a flashlight that could also be strapped to my head. I would need that later. The guide books said you can get all the supplies you need for very cheap in Pokhara but that you should get your hiking boots in the States. That was the only thing you couldn’t get on the cheap. We also loaded up on toilet paper, most certainly the smartest purchase we made all week/year/ever.

Our search for the famed “special” lassis ended in Pokhara. Not that we found one, we just gave up the search at that point because we didn’t think the drug would be out of our system by the time we got back to work. Fail.

Day 8: Pokhara – Birethanti – Ulleri

 We will begin the day with a drive from Pokhara to Nayapoll. Here we will enjoy beautiful and unique sights during a 5-hour trek to Ulleri. Once here you can take in the scenery and enjoy a fantastic overnight stay in a teahouse/lodge.

174Things got real when the van dropped us off at the base of the mountain with hundreds of other trekkers. Some would be gone for just three days, some for months. We felt like novices only doing five days but we were certainly more hard-core than some of the people we saw. For every two people in our group, we had one porter. We were a group of four so we had two porters along with Ramish to navigate the Himalayas. The porters were his cousin and a friend. They were 200 pounds soaking wet and put together, but they had two massive back packs strapped to their backs and heads. They did it all with a  smile and many hugs. I had my electronics bag on my back which incidentally was heavier than my big backpack.

Day 1 of the trek was supposed to get us acclimated to the work and altitude. It was alot of walking but on pretty level ground. Of course we thought it was hard, but it was nothing compared to what we were in for.

180Our first dealings with the teahouses was a good one. In these tiny Tibetan villages they have bunkhouses with the most meager of accommodations. Our room had a single light bulb and two ratty twin beds. That was it. We were instructed to buy sleeping bags in Pokhara and we all did it. It made the beds a little more comfortable. Dinner at the teahouses was the same menu we saw for every meal in the mountains. I cycled thru spring rolls, lo mein, dal baht, and cheese pizza. I noticed on the menu that you could get a room at the teahouse for $2.50. With the fixed Nepali meal going for $4 and a room being $2.50, you could live in the Himalayas for months on what we spent at the 360 bar in Dubai the night before we got to Nepal. And these were tourists prices!

Day 9: Ulleri – Ghorepani

We will trek from Ulleri to Ghorepani to reach a height of 2850m. Upon reaching Ghorepani we will enjoy another overnight stay in a teahouse/lodge.

259It stopped feeling like a holiday on Day 2 of the trek. It was an arduous climb, mostly up, and often through mud. The hiking boots I bought at the outlet mall were amazing and totally necessary.

The scenery was gorgeous but you had to remind yourself to enjoy it because it was very easy to get in a trance and just stare down at the ground, trying to find a safe next step. I wasn’t the fastest one and I wasn’t the slowest one so I was in a good position. I made many stops to take pictures and never let anyone rush me. I had been making fun of the wusses with walking sticks but by the end of the day I found a suitable stick which would be my best friend for the rest of the trip. I named him Stick and he was a lifesaver. By the end we all had sticks.

224The novelty of the teahouses was starting to wear thin. Power outages were frequent and it was a miracle if we stayed awake past 9pm. We hadn’t seen a non-squatting toilet in a long time. It was also getting very cold at night at this elevation. The sleeping bag was a necessity, but for warmth rather than comfort now.

Day 10: Ghorepani- Poon Hill excursion early in the morning – Tadapani

We will travel from Ghorepani to Poon Hill and on to Tadapani. Guests can enjoy spectacular views of the area early in the morning. We will reach 2670m and enjoy another overnight stay in a teahouse/lodge.

200In order to get up to Poon Hill for the sunrise, that meant waking up at 4:45am and going up steps for an hour, all in the dark. That’s where my headlight came into play. Kenny and John decided to pass on the pre-dawn excursion and rightly so. It was brutal. We had spectacular views of the mountains as the sun came up and then walked straight back down to the teahouse for breakfast.

By the time Kenny and John woke up, I was already in a world of pain. My legs were on fire. I woke up sore and it just got a million times worse. We trekked for six more hours and even though Ramish swore day 2 would be the hardest, day 3 wasn’t a walk in the park. The aches produced by the hellish day 2 were felt for the rest of the holiday.

269The weather continued to be perfect which was much appreciated. We randomly ended up in the same hotel in Lumbini as Kenny’s friends from Chicago and they told us that their trek was cancelled due to bad weather. We didn’t have that problem. The Gods were smiling on us. On day 3 we got to see some monkeys playing around and some yaks.

I was taking an average of 100 photos a day, and that was after deleting the bad ones. I bought the largest memory card at Best Buy and it was quickly becoming full. The views were just insane. The views are what kept us from killing ourselves. I knew I was going to be in over my head as far as the physical challenge but I wasn’t expecting the mental challenges. It was hard and humbling. Most of the time it wasn’t even fun but I knew a month later I would appreciate what we did and years later I would think it was one of the greatest two weeks of my life. I kept focusing on that. I leaned on Stick for most of the day.

Day 11: Tadapani – Ghandrung

We trek for approximately 3-hours from Tadapani to Ghandrung to reach 1950m. Here, we will stop overnight in a teahouse/lodge.

253Three hours was a lie. It was six hours. We all started to get sick around this point. John was first to go. The night before he didn’t even make it to dinner. He struggled through yesterday but somehow made it through. The rest of us got sick after that, but mainly just digestive problems. You can avoid drinking the water, eating ice and produce, but after awhile the bad stuff is going to get into you. You just can’t avoid it. It got us all and it was very comforting knowing that we had multiple rolls of toilet paper. Even our trusty Ramish got “avalanche stomach” as he called it.

The trek turned into a feat of endurance. Later we all admitted that the Tibetan chants we heard from every music store in Pokhara kept us going through the darker days of pain and illness. I’m glad I took so many pictures. Even now I can’t remember what it was like hiking around, I was in a trance, constantly thinking of nothing but the next step and appreciating every “shitty” hotel I’ve ever stayed at in the States.

Our last night in a teahouse was quiet. We had been seeing the same trekkers every day, several times a day but I guess we took a different route back down. Day 4 was almost in solitude except for the goats and donkeys that would force us off the path every few minutes. We saw plenty of locals but not the strangers that seemed like friends we’d been seeing all week. The last night was silent. I could barely walk and none of us trusted a fart.

Day 12: Ghandrung – Birethanti – Pokhara

We will trek for approximately 4 hours trek then drive for 2-hours to reach 960m. We will stay overnight in a teahouse/lodge.

178Day 5 felt like the last day of the Tour de France when even though you’re technically still racing, it’s all for show. The race is over and you just enjoy the view as you coast into Paris. That was our last walk back to the drop off point. The trek was only 50 kilometers but 97% of it was up or down at an incredibly slow pace. I wish I would’ve done the stairs on my layovers the weeks before this trip. That would’ve been the best training I could’ve done.

It was a little startling to see cars and people but it we were ready for it. I’m shocked we didn’t break down in tears when we saw the driver waiting for us. It was the hardest five days of my life but I was beginning to appreciate it, sort of. At least it was over.

We got back to our wonderful hotel in Pokhara and spent the rest of the day at a local cave and then trolling the streets for last second souvenirs. I found 42 Hitchcock movies as well as both seasons of AH Presents for a low price of $28. I snatched it up. The also had all 20+ seasons of the Simpsons for $10 but I simply had no room. I purposely brought clothes in my closet that I didn’t want anymore and every day of the trip I left behind something, but that didn’t free up as much space as I thought it would.

For our welcome back meal we checked out the highest rated Italian restaurant according to Trip Advisor, the Caffe Concerto. It was amazing and this time we accepted the reviews’ use of hyperbole. It was the perfect meal to come back to civilization to. We certainly deserved it.

Day 13: Pokhara – Kathmandu (6 hours drive or 25 minutes flight)

After breakfast we will drive or fly to Kathmandu. Once here we will stay overnight at a Hotel.

80We were up bright and early and exhausted. Every muscle ached and sitting in a car for over six hours didn’t seem like a bad thing. We were pretty quiet the entire way home, all in our own worlds. Our stomachs were still in knots but nothing embarrassing happened. We talked Ramish into stopping by one of the massive foot bridges over the river we’d seen a week ago. Walking over a “shaky bridge” was high on our list of things to do. Ramish obliged. God bless that man.

We returned to the hotel we started our adventure at, the good ol’ Nirvana. As we prepared to leave the country the next day, inbound travelers were arriving. We heard them excitedly chatting about what they thought lay before them. We could have imparted some wisdom but we were way too tired and over it. They’ll find out soon enough. Out last meal was at Trip Advisors’s #7 of 317, Phat Kath. My stomach allowed me to have veggie soup, that was it. It was great soup.

I didn’t tell Amanda about the mouse/rat I found in our room until the next morning. Cheeky bastard.

Day 14: Departure

Departure transfer to the airport to connect to an onward flight.

290Our flight to Dubai wasn’t until 7pm so we had most of the day to kill. There was talk of taking a flight to Everest but we decided against it. Amanda and I checked out the lovely urban park, Garden of Dreams. Walking still hurts and I’m always within a thirteen-second sprint to a bathroom but other than that, I’m pretty happy. While we’re waiting for our driver to come and retrieve us for the airport run, I overhear a tour guide giving his group a briefing in the lobby of the hotel. We were already singing Ramish praises but after hearing this joker, we were worshipping him like a God.

I can’t say enough about how great he was and how seamless the entire trip was. I don’t think we even know how much he did for us because we didn’t have to deal with a single problem. I’m not a big fan for organized tours but as far as Nepal goes, you’re much better off doing it that way, and Friendship was amazing. We tipped them all generously but we still felt like we owed them more. It was embarrassing how much they did for us and how nice they were.

I’m not sure how we decided to go to Nepal but I’m so glad we did. I’m not sure I’ll ever go back but it was one of the best two-weeks I’ve ever had. If anything, I appreciate everything about my life and the conveniences I have in America. It’s also pretty frustrating when you hear the gripes some very privileged people are making about their lives. They have no idea how great they have it.

Book  your Nepali adventure with these guys at Friendship Nepal Tours. It’s cheap and AMAZING. I can’t recommend them enough. Ask for Ramish, but don’t ask him how embarrassing we were.

See more photos here and check out my book!

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Why we hate Champions

imagesAll this month it’s been fun going back and forth with the fans of other sports teams about who’s going to win what. There are heartbroken Penguin fans and excited A’s fans. There are confident Brazil fans and nervous Spurs fans.

It always starts off with everyone promoting their team but once it gets down to two teams, us versus you, it gets personal. For the last two weeks the exchanges between Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs teams have gotten more and more nasty. The word “hater” comes up almost hourly.

So why do we all hate Miami, except for those who live in Florida? How does the Dallas Cowboys go from America’s Team to America’s most hated team? Why is it impossible to be ambivalent about the Yankees or Manchester United?

For me, it’s simple. It’s the way the super power went about making their team a super power. Manchester United has an amazing youth academy and more likely than not, their studs come thru their system. Yeah, every summer they’re in the running for the most expensive, sought-after player of the off-season and they usually get said player, but the core of the team is home grown.

Their cross town rivals Manchester City are a world power for a very different reason. They had a billionaire come in, buy the team, and spend hundreds of millions of pounds on the best players on the planet. Almost overnight they went from so-so afterthoughts to perennial contenders.

The Yankees are inbetween. It’s a mixture of both with them. They buy the best free agents but they also have a great farm system and talent scouts. Teams like the Yankees and Lakers are rarely bad for long because the name alone draws big time players.

When offered $30 million a year to play in Missouri or $25 million a year to play in New York, most players will leave money on the table just to be on a bigger stage with a tradition-strong team.

How small market teams remain relevent is a mystery to me. They have to do everything right. The San Antonio Spurs do everything right. Not only do they find the diamonds in the rough (and in foreign leagues), they also find the type of player who will actually want to stay in south Texas after they’re a household name. Do you think Kobe would still be in San Antonio if they’d drafted him out of high school? Yeah right.

Amazingly there is more club loyalty in America, more so than in the European soccer leagues at least. It’s incredibly rare to find a player who spends his entire career with one team over there, unless he’s lucky enough to be with a winner from the get go like Ryan Giggs and Gary Neville with Manchester United.

There aren’t that many Reggie Millers and John Stocktons in Europe, though there are certainly exceptions. Any time a good player follows his team to the lower divisions when they get relegated is commendable, and rare.

So why do I hate Miami and why should the people of southern Florida not be completely happy with the success they’re having? Because some super star players who could’ve gone anywhere decided to team up and make a super power. The big 3 stayed in the East because it was easier than competing with the Lakers, Spurs, and Mavericks. They went to Miami because it’s a big market and a fun city. Yeah Wade was already there but don’t forget how close he came to leaving that summer!

That amazing team fell into the lap of the city of Miami and they could’ve gone anywhere else. We could all be whining about Sacramento right now if that’s where they decided to go.

I don’t blame the players for doing that. It’s a little unfair, but the league rules allow it to happen. At least we have a salary cap unlike European soccer where billionaires can have 15 high paid players on the side. Then again it’s pointless to have a salary cap when the players agree to work for less just to hoard talent on one bench.

On the flip side, what the Heat are doing  doesn’t always work. The Rockets didn’t win with Barkley. The Lakers didn’t win with Malone and Payton. The Heat are young though. they weren’t thinking of one last run for a title, they were thinking of not four, not five, not six, blah blah blah.

Like I said, I don’t mind the players doing that, what gets on my nerves is the Miami fans who think they deserve all this success. You don’t. You were lucky they picked your city. You should be grateful and not obnoxious. I understand that no true fan will turn their back on their team for doing making some moves you don’t agree with. You stand by your team no matter what. Trust me, my life as a Liverpool fan the last 7 years has been hell because of the moves they make and don’t make. Before then I was proud of everything about that great club.

Lastly, I just don’t like LeBron. It’s not hating great talent. I hate Kobe, but I respect him. I know who he is and what he stands for. He makes a good villain. I love beating him, but I’ll be the first to say he’s the best player in our generation, after Jordan of course.

LeBron just always says exactly the right thing at the right time and his whole life is a cliché. I think he may be a robot. The only time I have heard him say anything that truly expressed something human, was that “not seven titles” debacle. Yeah, that was obnoxious but he has never been more real in his life. I actually don’t mind him doing that at all.

These days, I would love it if showed some emotion, good or bad, at any time in his life. I would love it if he admitted he was overwhelmed, or scared, or not worried about an opponent, or that he hates an opponent. Shaq wasn’t shy about that; Cristiano Ronaldo has enemies.

I’m pretty sure LeBron’s PR person has a bug in his ear at all times. It’s sickening how far away he is from anything controversial now. Tim Duncan may be even further from controversy, but I don’t feel like there’s something weird behind the scenes with Timmy. Anyways…

Some people love dynasties. It makes them feel like everything is right with the world. Thier world makes sense if the Yankees are playing in October and the Lakers are playing in June.

Some people always root for the underdog. I’m definitely an underdog kind of guy but if there is a dominate team out there, I want to be able to like them or hate them for the right reasons. I hate Manchester United, but they run a first class organization and deserve their success. I’d much rather them win the league than a fly-by-night pet project of some Russian billionaire or Sheik. How can you really stand behind a team that you know is successful by chance rather than hard work from everyone in the organization from the top down?

My Suggestions for Before and After on Wheel of Fortune

I haven’t watched Wheel of Fortune on purpose since I was eleven, but every now and then I have to watch it in the Flight Attendants Operations area at the airport because everyone I work with is over sixty years old. I try not to pay attention but sometimes I can’t help it, like today. Their Before and After category is probably my favorite. You have to think a little bit for that one.

I’m sitting here listening to my coworkers scream out “New York Mets” when it’s obvious it’s “New York Jets” because the real contestants already guessed an “M” and they lost their turn. I started a list of Before and After puzzles I’d like to see but never will.

Amy Winehouse of a Thousand Corpses

Hunter S. Thompson Twins

Daft Punk-Ass Bitch

Beastie Boys in the Hood

Money Shot in the Dark

God Bless America’s Next Top Model

Kanye West Side Story

The Amazing Race Wars

The Jesus and Mary Chain Smokers

Jack Black Rebel Motorcycle Club

David Lynch Mob

Permanent Midnight Cowboy

Stereolab Rats

Double Barrel Shotgun Wedding

Breaking Bad News Bears

How I Met your Mother of the Bride

Requiem for a Dream Weaver

Two and a Half Men at Work

The Dark Crystal Meth

Fast Times at Ridgemont High Blood Pressure

The Walking DeadMau5

Saved by the Belle and Sebastian

Junkyard Dog Day Afternoon

Tangled Up in Blue Man Group

Selma Blair Witch Project

and finally….

LeBron James and the Giant Peach

The Prodigal Son Returns February 29, 2012

After 82 days of being off of work, I finally got the call to come back. Medical said I was good to go, healthy as an ox. Well, they said to come up to New York and then maybe in a day or so they’d put me back in the mix. Of course none of the departments know what the other one is doing so for the past five days Scheduling has thought I’ve been back and has put me in the pool of flight attendants subject to receiving top-secret orders to God knows where.

Luckily they never assigned me anything on those days when I was still at home. That would’ve been a problem, especially if they would’ve called last night when my friends were throwing me an impromptu Goodbye Party at a seedy strip club in North Central Austin. I would’ve been excused from the missed assignment, but them not calling saved me even more annoying paper work and calls to my Supervisor.

She’s been my Supervisor for over 8 years now and until December, I never knew what she looked like, or what her first name was. She didn’t know me from Adam and we liked it that way. I didn’t bother her and she didn’t bother me. Now I have her on speed dial and know everything about her. I’m pretty sure I have her menstrual cycle down at this point.

I was hoping I’d come back to work with a spring in my step and a fresh sense of willingness to please, or at least not to be so quick to get annoyed with people. Whenever I catch myself getting annoyed by absolutely everyone I come into contact with, I know it’s time to take a few days off and get back to Neutral. After a week I’m recharged and ready for anything. After 82 days, I figured it’d be weeks before I roll my eyes or snap at a stranger. That’s what I was praying for at least.

The first test was passed with much ease. I made it through the Austin airport with no problem, most likely because I was still asleep and I don’t remember even being there. It wasn’t until we pushed back that the sun even came up. That was 11 hours ago. I honestly cannot remember a single detail of my hour I spent at the airport other than looking into Earl Campbell’s restaurant and wanting the signed Oilers jersey on the wall.

The flight was jam-packed, but that didn’t bother me, at least I got on the plane. I love flying for free. I slept through the entire flight. I love having the window seat. I couldn’t pick out the lady who sat next to me if you paid me a million dollars. I was in my own little world. So far so good. I love floating through non revving.

When we landed, I patiently waited for all the other passengers to get off the plane. I didn’t stand and stare at the front of the line while huffing or puffing. I sat there with my seat beat buckled and stared out the window at the bundled up baggage handlers doing their thing in the freezing rain.

Once the coast was clear and all the other non-revs were helping the crew clean the cabin, I snuck out and headed down to collect the bag I checked. Again, I was a little Fonzie, even when the bratty little kids kept riding the baggage carousel and kicking me as they went by.

Things started to fall apart a little bit when I was walking to the Air Train. An Indian man was racing to get to that terminal’s station which was about 1000 meters away. On moving sidewalk 4 in a series of 6, he decided to look for his wife, who was somewhere behind him. When he turned and saw that I was right on his heels and his wife was nowhere to be found, that was somehow my fault. He glared and of course I took it personally and went into defensive mode.

I thought he was going to say something to me and I was ready to reply, “Who runs off and leaves their wife and doesn’t turn around to check on her every minute or so? Prick!”

He never said anything to me, but I had already played out the entire fight in my mind and lived through all the emotions.  It was exhausting. I wasn’t in a good place. It was just as detrimental as if I had actually had the fight with the man.

On the Air Train a young, dirty Spanish couple annoyed me because they got on the train, plopped down their massive backpacks, and blocked the entrance from anyone else to get on. I was on and had a seat already, so it shouldn’t have concerned me, but I felt the aggravation of everyone else trying to get on the train. I took their ire upon my own shoulders, even though they didn’t seem to be bothered that much at all. They simply stepped over the obstacle and kept on with their lives.

I was feeling myself getting into the red and I was only on that train for three minutes before I got off at my terminal. I didn’t like where this was going. All of that time in Texas decompressing and within an hour in New York and we’re back in the dark place.

It was unbelievable, but I made it through security with no fuss at all. If anything, I was the one who slowed the process down. I perfectly fine being the weakest link and I’m very quick to apologize to everyone waiting on my ass. Getting past that potentially hellish encounter got me feeling optimistic again.

The last test of the kinder/gentler Brian was going through the Flight Attendant Operations area. Once I get to Ops I’m officially back into the world of working flight attendants. I usually try to walk through there with my blinders on and ears off. I don’t want to hear any of the inane babble the flight attendants are usually engaged in or hear their fights about whose stuff is on “my chair.”

Shockingly, it went very well too. No one was fighting over what to watch on the television and the dinosaurs who just transferred into New York from other cities weren’t complaining about what they held and how they thought they’d be able to fly better trips. No, make that they weren’t complaining about how they have all “paid their dues” and DESERVE to be flying better schedules. I honestly want to kill those people.

I guess what I’m saying is that the jury is still out on whether or not I’m going to be nice to the passengers and my coworkers. I didn’t miss the job at all during the last three months, but as far as jobs go, I have a very good one. I still know that. At the same time though, on the way to the crash pad I stopped by the bodega to buy a lottery ticket. The Mega Millions is now over 100 million. Let’s make that happen.

My Anti-Bucket List

Everyone talks about what they would like to do before they die and yeah, I have a mental list too. But how about stopping for a second and appreciating the badass stuff you’ve already done? Stop living in the future (which will never come) and take a moment to appreciate the things you managed to do thus far, just in case you don’t wake up in the morning.

I just went to the doctor today and let’s just pretend that she told me that I’m not going to survive the night. Here are some things I’ve done and places I’ve gone that I’m really excited about and proud of.

I’m so thankful that I had these experiences. So glad that I…

Took a year off of work to just travel and be with my family during the holidays. I didn’t get another job, I just went to California, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, Hawaii and spent many weeks in Austin and Oklahoma City with family.

Went to the World Cup. I saw the US play Ghana in Nuremberg, Germany in 2006. I still think it was a bullshit penalty call at the end of the first half!

Went to Stonehenge.

Experienced the back room at a strip club. I was in WAY over my head back then. I’d do much better now.

Floated in the Dead Sea.

Got a degree. I was even on the Dean’s List my last semester! somehow.

Saw the Grand Canyon.

Published both photography and some of my writing, and both have won contests, not that winning a contest was a goal. Still, it’s nice to be recognized. PS, writing award came when I was in high school.

Lived in New York City. And not just for a little while until it got the better of me, I left on my terms after more than a decade.

Won at a proper Bingo game with 100+ people in attendance. I don’t know if you know what it feels like half a second before you yell out BINGO to 500 people, but it’s a whirlwind of emotions, mostly fear that you messed up and don’t really have a BINGO and you’re going to be utterly embarrassed.

Saw the Sistine Chapel. Briefly. Then I got kicked out for taking pictures. Ditto with the Last Supper. And Mona Lisa. And Birth of Venus. And Starry Night.

Sat in the Kop at Anfield Stadium in Liverpool for a soccer game.

Saw Morrissey in concert. Though that first happened when I was fifteen and has been done several times since then.

Saw a Beatle in concert. Thank God it was Paul.

Took a road trip across America. From Los Angeles to Austin and all the way to NYC.

Saw a Dallas Cowboy game in person on Thanksgiving Day. It was in 1987 and Minnesota beat Dallas 44-38 in overtime with the backfield of Tony Dorsett and Herschel Walker. It’s one of only two NFL games I’ve ever been to.

Went to a big time, legendary, 3-day music festival in Europe. Every year now I do the Reading Festival outside of London, but only one day of it, while I’m on the job and getting paid at the same time.

Had a cliché, yet crazy week in Amsterdam. Ditto for Vegas.

Experienced the Great Barrier Reef. The first time is always the best.

Saw a live show at CBGB’s. They were all amazing, but the last one I saw was the best because by then we knew it was going to close down in a couple of weeks.

Visited a country where I understood none of the written or spoken language, yet managed to get by. Hand gestures and smiling goes a long way.

Well, I ran out of things so I did a google search for other people’s Bucket Lists and here are some of the things I’ve done that are on theirs. It’s amazing how EVERYONE has Swim with Dolphins on theirs! I’ve never done it and don’t really care that much to. They also all have Learn to Surf. That’s probably on mine as well.

Anyways: feed a koala, attend a high school reunion, test drive a car I cannot afford, stomp grapes, go to a Peter Gatien club in NYC, see a taping of David Lettermen, visit the Eiffel Tower at night, throw a coin into the Trevi Fountain, watch a show on Broadway, see the Shire, successfully bluff a stranger in a high stakes poker game, play strip poker, and see Michael Jackson in person (at the Disney Store in NYC)

It’s both inspiring and heartbreaking reading other people’s Bucket Lists. You see the same things over and over again and a lot of them are so obtainable! I don’t understand why they don’t just take a deep breath and give it a go. Some would take just a day to complete!

I guess people would say the same thing about the dreams I have though. My favorite lists that I came across today were the ones that would have check marks next to the ones they’ve done. There are some really young people out there who have done some amazing things. It was motivating. It really made me want to get off my ass and make things happen. Then again, there are some messed up things people consider goals and ambitions. Their priorities are WAY out of whack i.e. Get Someone Fired.

Ten Colorful Places

These are my ten favorite places/things in the world that make me appreciate Color. Forget the black and white film for these!

The Hindu festival of Colors in India- I need to go sometime!

Times Square at night after a rain

The tulip fields in Holland

White Haven beach in Australia- insanely blue water and blinding white sand

Great Barrier Reef coral

New England in the Fall

The Northern Lights

South African wildflower fields- need to check that out too!

Cinque Terre, Italy

and of course the Shinjuku area of Tokyo at night!

Why this Thanksgiving is going to be Wonderful

From my journal- the day after Thankgiving last year.

“I feel like I was just in the sequel of Plains, Trains, and Automobiles– only the after-hours version and with a Hispanic cast.

We didn’t land in San Antonio until after 2am thanks to a wheel issue at JFK that delayed our departure. The Purser said he was going to make a PA seeing if anyone was driving the eighty-two miles up to Austin but must have forgotten.  I didn’t care, I felt weird about asking strangers for a ride so far in distance.

When I got down to the Ground Transportation area I weighed my options again.  I gave up with the rental car idea.  It was going to cost too much.  I had to decide between waiting until 6am and flying to DFW then to AUS and landing at 9:30am or catching the 3:40am Greyhound bus.  When I did the math I realized that if I did the bus, I’d be home right when that first flight was taking off.  I figured it’d cost about $60 to take a cab to the bus station, buy a ticket, and pay for another cab to the AUS airport to where my car was patiently waiting.

I went outside and caught the one and only cab at the airport.  She was an older lady and slightly bizarre.  I asked her if she knew where the bus station was and she said she was very familiar with it.  I felt good about my decision.  At least I was still moving, still making progress.

I get to the downtown bus station at around 2:45am and took in the reality of my surroundings.  I was in a San Antonio bus station at 3am on Thanksgiving night.  If I ever needed to be reminded of my blessings, I didn’t after seeing that scene.  It was seedy as hell.  I was the only white person in there, which I didn’t mind at all, though people were looking at me like they did mind.  I didn’t like, however, that I was wearing my business casual attire from the plane.  I looked too good for the bus station, which of course I felt too good for as well.

I bought my $24 ticket and went over to the all night cafe.  I tried to special order a grilled cheese sandwich but the old Mexican lady wouldn’t let me order off the menu.  I had crinkly fries and a Mr. Pibb instead.  I didn’t want to ruffle any feathers by explaining all the elements for a grilled cheese sandwich were right there in front of her. I mean, I could see them! I accidentally spilled some of my soda on the ground, making a sticky floor even stickier.

While I was eating a Border Patrol agent strolled through and checked everyone out.  He even went into the kitchen and closets to see if illegal aliens were hiding out.  Even the Border Patrol guy was Mexican.  I wonder if they see him as a sell out. I kinda did.

I texted a little but not much.  I didn’t want to show off my fancy Android in front of some of these people who looked homeless and desperate. When buses came and went the announcements were in Spanish first and then English, as an after thought or maybe just to humor me.  The bus going to Austin, Dallas, and then onwards came from Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, straight up I-35.

As bizarre as the people in the bus station were (all men), the ones already on the bus coming from Mexico were even more so.  Even the bus driver was shady.  I thought he was just the kid helping with the baggage.  He took my suitcase and put it under the bus.  He smirked at me without a single tooth in his mouth.  I was shocked and horrified when he got behind the wheel and took us out of the station.  He honestly looked 15.

I then had the monumental task of picking a seat.  I thought I’d want to stay near the driver for safety but after seeing him, maybe I should get as far away from him as possible.  I headed to the back and it looked like some had been on that bus for weeks.  Little tents had been made out of towels and blankets in the seats.  It looked like a shanty town.  Amazingly it smelled ok.  The very back of the bus was taken up by a tweaked up looking couple, guarding the bathroom.  I stayed in the middle of the bus, right behind an older Mexican lady who I thought might be a whore.  I wondered if whores worked on buses and it wouldn’t shock me if they do.

After a few minutes I realized that she’s with the big fat Mexican with all the scars on his head sitting in the row in front of her.   She turned around and smiled at me, but I just stared out the window.  Most people had a row to themselves, two seats, so they were sprawled and asleep.  I wished to God that I could take pictures of all of this.  I wanted to do that as soon as I got to the bus station, and even more so when I got onto the bus.  It reminded me slightly of the bus ride scene in Trainspotting, only much seedier.

The lady in front of me with the tight jeans and dyed red hair got phone calls all the way to Austin.  I heard her at one time talking about how she was pissed that we didn’t have alcohol on the bus.  I slept on and off but the ride was only an hour and a half.  I woke up and opened the curtain to see downtown Austin passing by and then the Capitol.  It would just be another couple of miles before we exited.  I used to live near the bus station but have only been there once, in college, when I had to pick up a crazy Oklahoma girl from the station when she ran away from home to live with me, uninvited and unwanted.  Of course I didn’t know that she’d run away when I picked her up, I just thought she was coming down for a long weekend and would be heading home Monday morning. Not a good weekend.

I didn’t really want to get off the bus.  I wanted to just keep going.  I was tired and I didn’t really mind being on the Twin Peaks bus.  I felt like I was on an adventure and it was so surreal.  I’d love to just sleep for hours and see where I woke up.  I also didn’t want to think about trying to get a cab at 5am, going all the way back down to the airport and then driving to my northern suburb of Round Rock.

I heard the next stop was going to be Round Rock so I thought about just staying on and forgetting about my car for the time being.  I didn’t though.  I got off with the older Mexican hooker and got a look at the young guy in a pick-up who picked her up at the station. He acted like he didn’t know her.

It was still pitch black outside and very cold.  I had no idea what to do next.  I thought maybe cabs would be out hanging out.  Ones were outside the San Antonio bus station.  After five minutes of standing in the cold I thought about my options.  I could walk across the highway and get to the Ramada hotel.  From there I could call a cab.  I got out my phone and did a google search for Austin cabs.  I found a website and was just about to call the number when I looked up and saw a cab from the very same company passing by.

I waved frantically at him and within a minute I was warm and on my way to the airport.  I had the same random conversation with this older man as I did with the older woman in San Antonio, mainly revolving around Thanksgiving dinner and how not many people are needing cabs tonight.  Of course not, it’s the most family oriented night of the year.  It was depressing that neither really got that.  I tried not to dwell on that fact. It was depressing.

The streets were dead and empty, still pitch black.  I was exhausted and tried not to chit-chat but the guy was bored and lonely so he kept asking me questions about how I got to Austin from New York at such a weird hour.  I think I answered him but I’m really not sure.  I was so fucking tired.

He drops me off at the terminal and I start walking. I walked through the covered parking garage where the rich people park, out through short-term parking lot, and into long-term parking.  I look around and check for Parking Lot D.  According to the text I sent myself two-week ago, I’m parked in D13. My car was there, safe and sound.

I drive the thirty-minute drive home, in darkness still. I don’t see another car going my direction the entire time.  I listen to a mix of Joy Division, MGMT, The Normals, The Smiths, Radiohead, Pavement, and The Postal Service. This was not at all how I envisioned spending this Thanksgiving or any Thanksgiving, but it’ll make me appreciate every single one for the rest of my life. It was a good reality check.”

Random side note- look at the photo of the Austin skyline again. Notice anything weird? Where is the moon’s reflection? Photoshop=lame!