Monday, April 7, 2014

Hellloooo, Karma

It's my lucky day. Upgraded to first class, Sky Priority for my flight from Amsterdam to Detroit.

What a treat, but it also makes no sense. My boss, a Delta platinum card holder with over a million miles in his account, is stuck back in the cramped and crowded seats of coach. 

*** Please excuse this brief pause. The attendant is here to take my in-flight dinner order. (The roasted chicken with morel mushroom sauce sounds lovely. I'll have that. Thank you.) ***

Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah, I talking about my upgrade to to first class. What a surprise. I wonder if our travel booker messed something up?

Or maybe it's karma. Yes, of course. Karma. I'll go with that. 

Remember a few weeks back when I posted about accidentally leaving a baggage loader a $50 tip? I was in Bogota, Colombia and I mistook two $50,000 peso notes for $50 peso notes. Later, when I looked for my pesos, I couldn't figure out where all of them went. Only upon Wikipedia-ing Colombian currency did I discover that the 50,000 note drops the triple zeroes and adds "mil" in the zeroes' place. 

Lesson learned. Always study the currency and the exchange rate before traveling to a foreign country. 

Someone who read my blog post replied, "It's karma. Something good will happen to you soon because of this."

So this MUST be it, right? My $50 tip has resulted in leveraged karma of an approximately $1500 seat upgrade! (I'm guessing, but coach to first class must be at least that much, don't you think?)

*** Please excuse another short break, the attendant has returned for my drink order. (Wine, champagne, orange juice or a Heineken? Hmm, good choices all. I think I'll go with the champagne. After all, I only ate breakfast an hour ago! *slaps knee* *laughs out loud* *The attendant says, "Good one, Mr. Collins!"*) ***

Or if not karma, maybe just the Almighty is showering her good graces upon me for the all the hardships I've lately endured. 

Oh sure, those of you who follow me know that I've been jet-setting around the globe this past month. Mexico, Colombia, Saudi Arabia, Dubai, England.  You're probably thinking, "Hardship? What the hell is Collins talking about?! That guy's one of the luckiest stiffs I know, traveling all around the globe like that." But the truth is, these trips have been for work. In fact, they ARE work. You don't see the meetings and the countless hours spent traveling and waiting and the stress. 

The stress. Oh, yes. So, so much stress. 

But another hardship is damage to my health. On my fourth day in Saudi Arabia, strong winds rolled in and blew fine grains of sand dust into the air. Everywhere there was an auburn fog. At one point, I inhaled and the dust entered my lungs. Since that moment, my body wants it out. I've been a coughing, sneezing, phlegm producing machine for 5 days. My nose is raw from the fibers of coarse hotel tissue paper and airport towelettes. I excuse myself constantly for fear that I'll soon look like a 3-year sledding in January, with nose slime running down over my lips and no mom present to wipe it away. Eww gross, right?

Or maybe it's compensation for so many terrible and smelly flights. There was that first flight, albeit a short one between Milwaukee and a Detroit, where an older gentleman who was no longer mobile (poor fellow) urinated in the seat next to me. The smell was so piercing and acidic that I could not breathe. And I can't forget the Riyadh to Dubai leg--another smelly affair. The person next to me smelled like a combination of curry and body odor covered up by a sickeningly sweet rosewater-type perfume. Horrific. I adjusted the air jet to shear the air just in front of my face to attempt to minimize the putrid stench. Lastly, the crying babies. There's always at least one, but on the Dubai to Manchester stint, a chorus of screaming cherubs filled the cabin space for all of eight hours. My head was about to explode by the time we landed. 

So I'll take this seat with no guilt. Nope, none at all. I deserve it.  It's mine and it's time. I'm large and in charge. I'm a man with a plan. No one can stop me. 

Oh look. Here comes the flight attendant again. I bet he's bringing me a steaming hot towel so that I may refresh myself before we take off. 

What's that, mister flight attendant? There's been a mix-up? This is supposed to be my boss's seat? Okay, okay. I'll head back now, but may I please at least finish my champagne? No? Sorry, sorry. No need to get all pushy and stuff. I hear ya. I'm going now. Sheesh. You sure are a crabby one. 

Nevermind. You remember that saying about karma? It's true. 

Karma is a bitch indeed. 

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

One Week Sans Beer in the Kingdom

Day 7.

My throat burns. My eyes feel like a teaspoon of Aluminum Silicate have been placed under each eyelid. Digestively, I'm a mess--man wasn't designed to wash down pizza with hot tea. My liver ponders its purpose. (Why am I here? What is my duty? I'm unloved. I'm ugly.) My head, it strives for creativity, yet falls short. It cannot disengage from the myriad of pressing work tasks at hand. Coffee, sitting idly by, wonders, "Where is my dear nighttime friend? What have you done to him?! Will I ever see him again? I'm lonely. I am so, so lonely..."

Man, I sure hope I can finally get a beer in Dubai.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Milwaukee to Riyadh, Expressly

Whew. This post is being written from Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris. I'm not here to visit Paris. No.
I wish. I'm here on a layover.

Milwaukee to Riyadh. What a grueling day of travel.

Get this:

One hour -- Milwaukee to Detroit

Three hours -- Detroit layover

Seven hours -- Detroit to Paris

Three hours -- Paris layover

Six and a half hours -- Paris to Riyadh

Two to three hours -- immigration, customers, get bags, find driver

Two hours -- transport to my accommodations

Total transit time: over 25 hours. Also note ... "accommodations." Not a hotel. Accommodations. I bet I get a good night's rest there.

Writing this, I'm only half-way through and I'm already tired as heck. I can't imagine what I'm going to feel like by the time I get to my destination. Probably like this guy!


Sunday, March 16, 2014

Nicely Done, Southwest Airlines

Very cool,  Southwest Airlines. I like what you did there during the flight between Milwaukee and Tampa. 

Traveler William turns 9-years old today. His family is taking him to Disney World. Upon discovering that William's birthday is today, the flight attendants invited him to the cockpit where he meets the pilot and copilot. (This was while the plane was still at the gate in Milwaukee.)

You'd think they'd be done after that, but no, they stepped it up a notch. As we approached Tampa, they asked that those of us with window seats to pull down the shade. They then asked us all to turn on our attendant call lights (birthday candles!) 

The last step was having the entire plane sing Happy Birthday. 

Very sweet. Not only was it nice for William, but it gave me a little faith boost in humanity too. 

Bravo, Southwest. Bravo!


Saturday, March 15, 2014

D'ough!

One of the perils of International travel is understanding foreign currency. Seldom will you find the value of the U.S. Dollar equal to the value of the country you are visiting.

For example, as I write this, the value of one U.S. Dollar is as follows:

0.72 Euros
13.24 Mexican Pesos
6.15 Chinese Yuans
1.11 Australian Dollars (close!)
2,042 Colombian Pesos

Did you catch that last one? Two thousand and forty-two. That's the one that really knocks me for a loop. Early this week I took my first trip to the South American continent and I visited Bogota, Colombia where I got to realize the perils of foreign currency exchange firsthand.

See, while waiting for my luggage at Bogota's El Dorado International Airport, I spied lines of people at the nearby foreign currency exchange. Since the baggage carousel had not yet started, I thought, "This would be a good time for me to go exchange a few U.S. Dollars for a few Pesos so that I can, at least, pay the taxi driver."

Note 1,930 instead of 2,042
I handed the teller three twenties. After investigating my passport and requesting a sign an exchange document, he handed me 115,800.00 Colombian Pesos. "Whoa," I thought. "I'm rich!!" That's a lot of moola!!

By the time I made the exchange the carousel was moving and I immediately spied my luggage. I grabbed it and headed straight for the Salida (Exit; see? I learned some Spanish!). Unexpectedly quickly a lady asked, "Taxi, Sir?"

"Si. Por favor." I replied.

Within 10 seconds she had a cab at the curb and she hoisted my heavy luggage into the trunk. While this was occurring, I fumbled through my wallet to find an appropriate tip.

I spied a 10,000 Peso bill. "Nah. That's too much," I thought.

Fingered a 5,000; thought the same.

All I had was a few U.S. $20s--I wasn't going to give her one of those.

"Oh. What's this? A couple of 50 peso bills?" That sounds about right. I'll give her those.

I hop in the cab's backseat and I'm whisked off to my hotel.

Once there, I open my wallet so that the cabbie can expect my pesos. (A high risk proposition, but what do you do? He speaks no English; I, little Spanish. You just gotta put your faith in humankind and hope that he doesn't steal you blind.) He looks at my 5,000 bill. No, Senor. My 10,000 bill. No, again, Senor. My 5,000 PLUS my 10,000 bill. Lo Siento, Senor.

Finally I show him one of my U.S. twenties. Si, Senor! Si!!

I handed him the twenty and proceeded into the hotel wondering just what the hell happened? I mean, I just cashed in sixty U.S. bucks, why didn't that cover my trip?

I met a few of my associates at the pub and we discussed this. All I can figure, at this point, is that the teller at the exchange didn't give me the proper amount. We even table all of the pesos so that we can expect them. There were 2,000; 5,000; 10,000; and 20,000 bills. In every case, the amount was in thousands as indicated by the string of triple zeroes.

I started to think about those two fifties I handed the taxi caller. "Did those say 50,000 and not 50?!" I wondered.

No. I was positive. They only had a 5 and a 0 in the corner. "I'm certain of it," I reassured myself, but once I returned to my hotel room, I logged on to Wikipedia and searched Colombian currency.

Ta da!

There it was. The bill that has likely messed up many a foreign traveler to Colombia before. The 50,000 peso bill. And sure enough, it only has a 5 and a 0 in the upper corner. However, what sets this bill apart from its brethren is that rather than indicating the thousands values by a string of triple zeroes, this little beauty substitutes the word "MIL". MIL meaning thousand.

I gave the taxi caller approximately $50 just for lifting my luggage into the back of a taxi cab!!

She must have thought I was one big spender and went home to her family to celebrate!!

Crap. Fifty bucks, down the drain.

Well, one of my associates reassured me that this mistake will likely result in some form of good karma that will someday come my way. At least I got that goin' for me.

So take this tip from me (pun not intended), before traveling to a foreign country, look up a little about the value of the currency relative to the dollar and examine the appearance of their cash.

It just may save you fifty bucks.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Pollo or Pasta?

"Pollo or pasta?" Delta Flight 980's attendant (Bogota to Atlanta) asked. 

Pasta, por favor. Gracias. 

No sooner had Marc Anthony (the attendant--he was a dead-ringer for Latin American sining star Marc Anthony) handed me my foil-wrapped plate of warm pasta, he jumped back and dove across the lap of a man sitting in the aisle seat one row forward. A young woman, a girl, was jumping about in her seat. Her mother, in my row, was sitting to my left. The girl was frantically trying to get her mom's attention. 

She was choking. 

Marc Anthony wrapped his arms around her torso and dragged her across the lap and tray of the man sitting along the aisle. Once in the aisle, the both of them faced the rear of the plane. Marc Anthony behind her and with his arms gripped tightly around her abdomen. 

The Heimlich. 

It began. One sharp pull upwards. A second. A third followed. 

I was in shock taking in so much in only a moment's time. I looked into the girl's eyes. 

Pure fear. 

The upward pulls continued. I lost track of time or how many maneuvers occurred, but I was not enjoying my front row seat observing the asphyxiation of a young woman. 

"C'mon, Marc Anthony! Dislodge it already!!" and "Hang on, girl!" I urged in my mind. 

Then, finally, a plop of partially chewed poultry landed in the aisle--just an inch from my left foot. 

The girl gasped and drew in large breaths of compressed cabin air. 

Then tears.

Tears of relief. Tears of fear. Tears of gratefulness. I'm not sure what kind of tears they were, but I felt them too. And I also gulped air--I don't think I breathed as long as the incident occurred. 

I had sat there, still. Watching. Like a statue. Not breathing. 

The girl and her mother were then whisked to the front of the plane where the attendants administered additional care. Ten minutes passed. The girl and her mother, with their still tear-streaked faces, returned to their seats. 

Another minute or two passed and the attendant returned to his normal duties. He returned to my row and said, "Pardon me. Now where was I?"

All I could reply was, "Well done, Marc Anthony. Well done."

(Except I didn't say Marc Anthony, but I sure was thinking it!)

Delta, please find a way to acknowledge the quick and precise life-saving technique of Douglas. I didn't catch his last name, but if you've read this far, you know who he looks like. ;)

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Thank You, People That Say "Thank You"

Yelping is a fun expression and hobby of a few of my favorite things: writing and eating, but it's a total bonus when you hear from a business owner who thanks you for your patronage and honest review.

I was fortunate to get two of these this week.

The first:

Thanks Mike for the nice and cleverly written review. We are so happy that you enjoyed the food and service. Hope to see you and your wife again! Just last week we introduced 'smokeless hookah,' another touch of Middle Eastern culture that you might find as much fun as pronouncing our food! :)

The second:

Thank-you so much for your honest, complimentary review. You always hear the bad things so its nice to hear the opposite side once in a while. I printed your review up and posted it for all employees to read. Really appreciate everything you said about my bar. Hope to see you again soon....if you are..ask for Ryan. I'd like to meet ya! Cheers!

Now they're not always that nice. One business in particular was not very happy with my review of their terrible restaurant. They proceeded to tell me it was my fault that me and my colleagues did not like the food and terrible experience.

That one gave me a sleepless night. Was I wrong? Was I too tough? Should I remove my review? Edit it to be softer?

But then after considering the owner's obtuse and scathing rebuttal, I thought it best to leave my review just the way it was.