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


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. ;)