the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Tag: travel (Page 1 of 2)

Paris Journal – Day One


A week before we flew into Paris, Danielle, the owner of the two-bedroom apartment in the Marais district that we were renting for ten days, called my mother in New York. It was six o’clock in the morning. Apparently, Danielle was confused about the international time zones.

“What did she say?” I later asked my mother.

“She said she was going to pick us up at the airport.”

“Wow, that’s nice of her. This trip is looking great!”

We arrived at Charles De Gaulle Airport at noon on Saturday — me, my mother, and my mother’s friend, Laura, a kind-looking woman in her seventies.

As we passed through security, I searched for Danielle in the crowd, hoping she would be one of those greeters holding up a sign with my name on it, like you see done in movies. She was not there.

She was not in the baggage area, either.

I headed for the exit, pausing at the sliding door, realizing that my next step would be my first ever step on French soil, a spot in which Napoleon himself might have stood if he ever took a discount flight into town.

I entered France.   Danielle was not waiting, and my first whiff of Parisian fragrance was of a taxi blowing fumes into my face.

I called Danielle on the phone and she answered, speaking in a thick French accent.

“Bonjour! Bonjour, Neil!”

“We are here. Will we see you soon?”

“Absolutely. I’m only two minutes away.”

My mother, Laura, and I found a bench near the information booth inside and waited for twenty minutes.  Nothing.

“Call her again,” pushed my mother.

“Don’t worry,” I said. “This is how the French are. They take things slow. They like to eat and drink and enjoy life. Two minutes to a Parisian is like twenty minutes to us.”

I was winging it.  I felt that it was necessary because one look at Laura’s face and I could see that she was questioning my decision to rent an apartment.  Of the three of us, she was the one who most preferred staying at a traditional hotel.

“Trust me,” I told her two weeks earlier when I booked the rental. “You and my mother have played it too safe over the last few years with all those by-the-book tour groups and cruises.  Now is the time for adventure.”

“Hmm,” she said, not convinced.  Laura also wanted to go to England instead of France. At least there, they speak English.

“Call her again,” said my mother,  wondering about Danielle whereabouts.   My mother was now getting anxious because she saw the discomfort in Laura.   I was now getting anxious because I saw the worry in my mother.  You can take three neurotic New Yorkers out of New York, but….

I took out my iPhone and called Danielle for a second time.

“Bonjour, Neil!” she said.

“Uh, Bonjour, Danielle. Are you on your way yet?”

“Oh, don’t worry. I just live two minutes away. Call me when you are here.”

“We ARE here.”


“At the airport.”

“Oh, so just call me from the airport when you reach the apartment. I only live two minutes away from the apartment. I’ll give you the keys when you arrive.”

“So, you’re NOT picking us up at the airport?”

“No, no, no. Just take a cab! It shouldn’t be more than seventy Euros!”

“Uh, ok,” I said.

As we taxi-ed into central Paris, my mother insisted that Danielle told her, during the phone call a week ago, that she would meet us at the airport.

“Are you sure she didn’t say that she would meet us at the apartment, and NOT the airport?” I asked.   “It seemed too good to be true.”

“Maybe you are right,” said my mother.   ” But it was six o’clock in the morning when she called so I was sleepy.  And also, she had a strong accent that was hard to understand.”

“If we went to England,  we would have no problem with the language,” said Laura.

Well, actually she never said that.  But I KNOW she was thinking it.

We had arrived in Paris.

Paris Journal – Prologue #2

“Thanks for driving me to the airport,” said Jonathan.

“No problem,” replied his friend, Bobby. “It’s too bad that you’re going on this business trip to Paris alone.  I hear it’s a romantic place.”

“Oh, I’m not going alone.”

“You’re not.”

“Physically, maybe, But mentally, I’m going on a tour bus filled with the women in my life.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Well, first, there’s my wife.  She’s mad at me because she’s stuck home dealing with Junior’s soccer schedule while I’m going to France.”

“OK, I can see that.”

“There’s also my ex-wife who called me last week, pissed that we never went to Paris during our marriage, and only honeymooned in Napa.  “Maybe things could have been different if I wasn’t so cheap back then,” she said.””

“That’s cold.”

“And then there’s Natalie.”

“You’re girlfriend from the office?”

“Yeah.  She won’t sext with me anymore because I’ve ruined her ultimate fantasy of the two of us walking by the Seine at night, side by side, as the voice of Edith Piaf surrounds us like a warm Givenchy coat.”

“Surely she can understand that this is a business trip.”

“And now there is Ellie.”

“Who’s Ellie?”

“She’s my next door neighbor.  Divorced.   She put a note under my windshield wiper last night saying that if I brought her along to Paris and took her to this five star Michelin-rated restaurant she read about in the New York Times she would give me the best blowjob of my life.”

“That would be an expensive blowjob.  Is she worth it?”

“Uh… probably.   But I’m there for BUSINESS, not pleasure.”

“Damn, this is getting to be one crowded tour bus.”

“There’s more.   At six o’clock this morning, my mother called, reminding me to bring a hat, because she checked the temperature in France online, and it’s suppose to be brisk when I go up the Eiffel Tower.”

“Yeah. Apparently you aren’t going alone.”

“Paris seems to have some sort of meaning for women.   I don’t quite get it.  I’m just excited to go there and see where they chopped off the head of Robespierre.”

“Exactly!   So jealous!”

Trucker Bob from Nashville

I had pre-booked my American Airlines seat for the aisle seat, row 17, seat D.  When I arrived at it, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that I was seated next to an attractive woman in her thirties in middle seat E. She was reading a fashion magazine, and dressed in a funky blue and white striped cotton dress. I imagined her to be a model travelling to Nashville to star in a country music video.

“I should strike up a conversation with her,” I thought.

This was surely a bright spot in what was the worst scheduled flight of my life – leaving LAX at 11PM, a stopover in Nashville at 4AM, and arriving at LGA at 9AM. American AAdvantage Frequent Flier Program, what has become of you? Was this the only available flight that I can take on the most travelled route in your system, Los Angeles to New York? Did you give away too many free miles, and now, after years of excess, are you punishing your own customers?

I glanced over to see if the woman in seat E was wearing a ring. She was not.

The window seat to her left, seat F, was for now, empty.   Across the center aisle, there were another three seats in the row.  In window seat A was a young college male college student.  In middle seat B, was his girlfriend.   In aisle seat C, directly across from mine, sat a gentleman with a grey beard.

The center aisle was busy with boarding passengers.  An older woman with dyed-red hair appeared from nowhere.

“Are you here alone?” she asked.

“Yes,” I said.

“My husband and I were split up into different rows,” she sputtered, pointing to the bearded gentleman across the center aisle. “There were no seats together,”

The bearded man smiled at me, shyly.

“I have an aisle seat a few rows backs,” continued the wife. “Would you mind if we switched so I can be closer to my husband?  It’s another aisle seat.  It shouldn’t make any difference to you.”

I glanced over at the beautiful woman to my left.  She was reading some article in her fashion magazine about “Pleasing Your Man in Bed.” I did NOT want to move my seat. No, not at all.

The wife hovered over me and I started to cave.

“Let’s be honest,” I thought. “You’re never going to talk to this beautiful woman sitting next to you. What does it really matter where you sit?”

“Fine,” I told the wife. “I’ll switch with you.”

“Thank you so much! You’re so nice!” she said.

I grabbed my black Everlast carry-on bag from overhead, took one more quick glance at the beautiful woman, and retreated to the back of the plane, passing the restless, angry, bitter, sleepy coach travelers, all vainly struggling to shove their too-large carry-ons into the too-small overhead compartments.

It wasn’t until I reached my new seat that I understand my horrible, terrible mistake. I had just traded in my perfect aisle seat next to the hottest woman on the flight for an aisle seat in the back, one row in front of the bathroom. My seatmate was a sweaty, overweight man, barely able to contain his hefty body in his narrow seat.

“How ya doin’?” he asked in a Southern accent. His arm completely extended over the common arm rest and his elbow practically poked me in the ribs.

“I’m Bob!” he said.

Let me be perfectly clear. I don’t believe that larger-sized people should be penalized for their weight, or be forced to pay for two seats on an airplane. No, the villain is the airline industry. Airline seats are designed to fit twelve year old Japanese girls, forcing Americans to buy business class. I’m thin, and I can hardly fit comfortably in my coach seat. And God help me if the person in front of me slides his seat back. Flying coach today is reminiscent of how my poor European immigrant family came to this country by ship in 1917.

Bob was not only a big man. He was a garrulous Southerner, way too friendly for my East Coast self.

“You flying home?” he asked, eating some peanuts he had hidden in his pocket. Bob was about fifty, with thinning black hair and a tiny nose like a rabbit.

“Yeah,” I said, limiting myself to one syllable.

“Me too,” he said. “Just came to LA to attend my Grandma’s birthday party at the nursing home by my sister’s house in Reseda. Of course, my sister said it wasn’t necessary for me to come. But I told her, this is my beloved grandma too! I’m coming faster than a Navy private in a hooker’s hooch!”

I reached into my lime green khakis and took out my iPhone. I made believe that I was sending important messages back to my office. In truth, I was on Twitter, asking for advice on how to survive this flight.

I stood up to stretch, and looked over at my old God-given seat, the one that I had reserved weeks earlier, and was now occupied by the red-haired woman.

There was now a passenger in row 17, seat A, the window seat next to the beautiful woman with the fashion magazine. He was a strong-jawed man with a cowboy hat. He was confidently chatting it up with her. I could hear her laughing.

“I see you’re using one of those new phones,” said Bob, jolting me out of my thoughts. “You should save the battery until the flight.”

“I’ll be OK,” I said.

“Are you sure?” he replied. “I work as a trucker. So recently, I’m driving with my buddy, Duke, who is always playing these games on his phone. One day, he’s playing so much that his battery runs out. And it just happens that on that day, his wife calls him and can’t reach him, so she gets all freaked out, thinking the truck crashed and he got killed. So when we get back home, his wife is waiting for him, and whoa, did she kick his ass that night!”

“Uh, yeah, those mobile games are pretty popular,” I said, not knowing what else to say.

“You play these games on the phone?” he asked.

“Not really. I mostly read stuff on the phone.”

“Yeah. I like reading. You ever read “In Cold Blood?”

“No, but I know what it is. I saw the movie.”

“Read the book.”

“I’ll check it out,” I said, hoping that this conversation was reaching the end.

I closed my eyes, and faked that I was asleep. The plane departed LAX.  Bob really fell asleep, his head resting on my shoulder.

“Why am I such a sucker?” I asked myself as we flew over Nevada. “Why did I switch my perfectly good seat for this awful one? Sure, I was being nice. But “nice” is now the biggest insult in the word, according to some article I recently read, worse being called an asshole. At least an asshole “knows what he wants.  Soon, the beautiful woman and the cowboy will be sneaking off back here, into the bathroom together, having mile high sex, and I’ll be hearing it all from my seat!  And if I wasn’t such a fool, that could have been ME!  Instead, I am stuck with… Bob.”

Bob woke up from his nap, drooling on my shirt. He saw that I was awake, and was in a talkative mood.

“Hey, where in Nashville do you live?”

“I live in New York. I’m just stopping over in Nashville.”

“Oh. New York. New York. If you can’t make it there, you can’t make it anywhere. Except it is a bad place to drive a truck.”

I closed my eyes and faked sleeping for a second time.

We landed in Nashville. The moment the light flashed green, I was up, the seatbelt flying open. I grabbed my black Everlast carry-on bag from the overhead compartment.

“See ya, “ I told Bob, and ran like hell, pushing aside old and pregnant women to exit first.

I had ninety minutes to kill in the Nashville airport, so I did a little exploring. It was a nice airport, making LGA look like a Greyhound terminal. It was clean, bright, and country music stars like Randy Travis greeted you on the loudspeaker, suggesting you visit the local tourist spots, like the zoo.

I thought about my experience with Bob on the plane, and how I frequently sabotage my own potential. I was about to attend a blogging conference in a few days. I promised myself not to make the same mistake that I just did on the plane when I attended this conference. I needed to focus on networking with the right people, those who can get me work, success, or advancement, the beautiful and talented artists and entrepreneurs of the world — not the Trucker Bobs of the world, those who offer me nothing but useless conversation, wasting my precious time.   If the beautiful woman on the plane symbolized success and power, Trucker Bob represented despair.

There was an announcement on the speaker system, interrupting Shania Twain talking about Nashville’s famous music clubs. It was a voice from American Airlines.

“Would the passenger who just flew in from Los Angeles, flight 17, and who has the black Everlast carry-on bag, please come to Gate 2. You have the wrong bag.”

I looked down at my bag. This WAS my bag. Or at least I thought so, until I opened it. Inside, I found an assortment of XL tank-tops, dirty crew socks, a razor, and a copy of “In Cold Blood.”

When I arrived at Gate 2, I saw Bob standing with an American Airlines attendant. I handed him his bag.

“I’m so sorry,” I said, blushing, worried that Bob would think I stole his bag. “Who would guess that we would have identical carry-on bags?”

“No problem,” he laughed, smiling goofily. “Honest mistake.”

The attendant said my bag was already in the lost and found. I should wait there while she retrieved my bag. Bob remained behind, standing at my side.

“You don’t have to wait for me,” I told Bob.

“No problem,” he said. “I just want to make sure you get your bag, like I got mine.”

“Thank you,” I replied.

“It’s such a weird mistake,” I said, trying to be friendly.

“Yeah, like one of those Alfred Hitchcock films where there are switched suitcases, and one of them is from a spy.”

“Exactly!” I laughed, surprised that Bob knew that reference. “Do you like Hitchcock films?”

“Of course,” he said, and told me his favorites. “Rear Window. Strangers on a Train. Psycho.”

“Which is the movie with the mixed up suitcases?” I asked, not remembering.

“North by Northwest?” he asked.

“No, definitely not,” I said. “I’m not even sure it happened in a Hitchcock film. Maybe we are thinking of Charade, which wasn’t by Hitchcock.”


I glanced at the overhead clock to make sure I was doing OK with time. I still had 45 minutes.

“Hey, you want to grab a cup of coffee and apple fritter before you take off for New York?” asked Bob. “I know a good place in the terminal.”


Bob and I went to have a cup of coffee and apple fritter.

“Why’d you take such a bad flight to New York? Nashville at 4AM?” he asked, munching on his treat.

“Stupid American Airlines frequent flier program. This was the only flight I can get.”

He understood. It was the same reason he was taking the flight.

“I can’t believe how bad American Airlines has become,” said Bob. “They used to be the best!”

“The reason I still fly American is that my father would ONLY take American Airlines when he flew. He thought they were a class act.”

“Mine too!”

“We’re American Airlines…. Doing what we do best.”

We both sang the long-running commercial jingle from American Airlines. We laughed. We bonded by mocking American Airlines, and how far they’ve fallen, suggesting that their only hope was to be bought by some Chinese airline. We talked about our fathers. I learned that Bob was divorced in 2000. I promised him that I would read “In Cold Blood.” I showed him how to use Twitter.

It was the best forty-five minutes I’ve ever had in the Nashville airport.

The Planning of Maryland

Is there any cliche more annoying than “Life happens when you are making other plans?  I hate this expression for the obvious reason –  because it speaks the truth.

My father planned family vacations three years ahead of time.  No joke.  I have tried desperately to rid myself of this ignoble inheritance.  But it is stuck in my brain like the writing on my father’s calendars hanging over his desk.

I recently took a trip to Maryland to visit some friends.  I spent a week planning it out beforehand, like my father might have done, mapping it out as precisely as the storming of Normandy, or more accurately, a housewife on that Extreme Couponing show looking to buy $2000 worth of pasta and Ivory Soap for $1.59.  I wanted to go as inexpensively as possible, another trait I inherited from my father; I splurge on others more than myself.

Using my advanced Google research skills, honed from years of looking up my own name on search engines, I accumulated the data that I needed and created the ultimate cheapskate’s road trip from New York to Maryland.

I would take the Bolt Bus from NYC, a bus line familiar more to college students than myself.  I could go round-trip to the Washington D.C. area for a mere $30 round trip.  While not the most glamorous methods of travel, seeing that it picked up passengers in New York a block away from Penn Station, in between a Sbarro pizza restaurant and a XXX Peep Store, it was only $30!

Next, I needed a nice hotel for two nights in the D.C./College Park, Maryland area.  I found it in Greenbelt, Maryland, via Priceline bidding, for $50 a night.   After those two nights, I would head east towards the coast and stay with my friend Jennifer, which would cost me nothing.

My best deal connected with my trip was for the rental car.  I discovered a weekend deal with a Maryland Enterprise Rental Car for only $9.99 a night!  Woo-hoo.  My father would have been proud.

The Bolt bus was surprising comfortable.  I leaned back in my chair, proud of my perfect planning.  I thought about applying for a job with Arthur Frommer Travel Guides as a consultant.  I am a traveling God.

“Smooth sailing,” I said to the college dude sitting next to me in his Columbia University hoodie.  “I went to Columbia, too, you know!” I added.

He didn’t seem to care.  He was listening to music on his iPhone.  But I didn’t mind his rudeness.  I was in a good mood because of my perfect travel plans.  I just wouldn’t donate to the alumni fund this year.

After two hours of traveling, we stopped in Wilmington, Delaware at a food court.  I knew about this, as any seasoned travel expert would, from reading the Bolt Bus Forum online ahead of time.

The bus driver bellowed into his microphone, “If you need to use the restroom, go fast, because I’m leaving in ten minutes, with you or without you.”

On the Bolt bus forum, there were several stories of passengers left behind in the food court in Wilmington, Delaware.

But I was relaxed, even as I strolled into the food court to stretch my legs.  Our affable bus driver, a middle-aged African-American with a deep voice like Isaac Hayes, would never leave anyone at the food court.  He was just too nice of a guy.   I had read on the Bolt Bus Forum that the company had improved their hiring process ever since one of their passengers had videotaped a driver nodding off at the wheel, and promptly posted it on YouTube.   Yay, social media!   Our bus driver rocked!

Here is a photo I took in the food court and posted on Twitter,  providing proof to the world, that yes, I have now peed in Delaware!  Add it to my list.

After arriving in Maryland, exactly on schedule, as I expected, I called Enterprise Rental Car to pick me up at the station, just like I had pre-arranged with the office.  Within ten minutes, an SUV appeared in the terminal pick-up area, driven by a young Enterprise employee wearing a snazzy green tie.

The rental office was a few minutes away.  As he drove, we discussed Washington politics.  He knew way more insider gossip than I did.  I wondered if everyone in the DC area followed the latest federal government news, much like every supermarket checkout girl in Los Angeles knew the latest Hollywood box-office numbers.

“Let’s get you in and out,” he said as we stepped into the office, which was located behind a Cadillac dealership.  “By the way, we have a few extra Cadillacs available to rent.  If you want, I’ll give you one for the same price that you have now.”

$9.99 a day for a Cadillac?

“No, thank you,” I said.  “It will be easier for me to park a smaller car.”

He seemed surprised by my refusal, even a little disappointed, but he shrugged it off.

My reason for not wanting the car was a white lie.  I didn’t want the Cadillac because I had already ordered a compact car, not a Cadillac.  The compact car was pre-ordained, like the visions of Nostradamus.   Everything was proceeding on schedule, and I worried that one slight change in the stacking of the dominos could cause them all to collapse.  Since I ordered a compact car online, it would BE a compact car.  There would be no dreaming big when I have a plan.

“Whatever you want,” he said, stepping behind his computer system.  “I’m here to make your experience with Enterprise a superior one.”

I made a note to myself to commend this employee, even filling out one of those “How Did We Do?” cards before I left, giving him a “helpful” score of “10.”

I handed him my California Driver’s License and my Mastercard, even before he had the chance to ask me for them.  I knew the rules.  And I was on a schedule.   Soon, I would be relaxing in my non-smoking with a King bed and free wi-fi hotel room, taking a breather before I headed out to a tapas bar in D.C. to meet some friends.

“There’s a little problem,” said the Enterprise guy, as he handed me back my driver’s license.

My California driver’s license had expired on my birthday, a month ago.  My new card was apparently 3000 miles away, on Sophia’s kitchen table in Los Angeles.  I called her and she wasn’t home.   Enterprise wouldn’t allow me to rent me a car.

I didn’t know how to get to my hotel from the rental car office.  Or into Washington D.C. for dinner that night.  Or to the University of Maryland for a web conference the next day.  I also knew that Jennifer was busy cleaning her house on the Maryland shore, awaiting my arrival in two days.   My perfect plan was crumbling like stale coffee cake.

Is there any cliche more annoying than “Life happens when you are making other plans?  Yes! It is annoying.

But we have no choice but to accept this as reality.

After all, when we later sit down and tell our stories, it is never the planning that holds any interest to the listener.  It is the life that seeps into the cracks.  That is the story.   My Maryland trip ultimately became more interesting and fulfilling without a car as I scrambled from one location to the next, like a contestant on “The Amazing Race,” jumping from buses to taxis to shuttles to trains to subways to boats.  It was only when I was rushing to catch a connection, frantically reaching it within seconds, that my heart would race and my mind would spin like a top, and I would understand, finally, in some metaphysical way, what absolutely unbridled passion must feel like when making love to a woman with complete abandon, not knowing where or why or when.

The whole week in Maryland was a gift to me.  It became a lesson that I had never received from my dear father, as wonderful a man as he was, because he was so rooted in the planning the journey rather than the embracing it.

Life has very little to do with the plans.

The Christmas Parade

December has been a social month.  I met up with Doobleh-vay at her New York hotel, Jen Lee at the Moth Storytelling Slam, attended the BlogHer NY Holiday party, and lived it up at the NY book launch party of Kirtsy Takes a Bow: A Celebration of Women’s Online Favorites.


The Kirtsy book contains great writing and photography from female bloggers, many who you might know from being online.   For some reason, one of my tweets is included,in this woman’s book, bringing me one step closer to that sex change operation.


At the party, someone asked me if I write a sex blog, or if I am just obsessed about breasts.  I didn’t get too many phone numbers that night.

After all the festivities, I woke up early on Friday morning for the big topper event — I was taking a train for a weekend in Virginia, visiting V-grrrl and her family.

(photo of V-grrrl by Di Mackey)

V-grrrl is one of my long-time blogging friends, although I have never met her in real life, mostly because, until last year, she lived in Belgium.

She also send me the most important piece of European art work that I own, back in 2006, after she read one of my ground-breaking posts about boys peeing in Norway.


V-grrrl is also the very first person to be interviewed — by me — in the first Great Interview Experiment.

V-grrrl and her husband live in a beautiful home practically sitting in a forest (with a lot of Revolutionary and Civil War history).  In her backyard, all sorts of exotic birds fly to her feeder.

“That’s a real oriole!” I screamed, looking on my “Birdwatching” iphone app that I downloaded when it was on sale at $2.99!  I pressed a button on the iphone and showed off the bird sounds to V-grrrl’s kids.  They were not impressed, since they had iphones themselves.  In fact, a good part of the afternoon was spend sharing iPhone apps with V-grrrl’s twelve year old son.  I have a feeling modern technology makes us all the same age — teenagers.

V-grrrl’s kids are super-brainy.  Have you ever heard of this school competition program called O.P.?    O.P. kids compete against each other building miniature airplanes, and then devise the flight plans, as if they were air traffic controllers.  They explained it to me, but I didn’t really understand.  I’m more about the peeing in Norway than engineering feats.

The big event of the weekend was the town’s 40th annual Christmas Parade.  I was excited to see the charm of this small-town tradition. And then it SNOWED.  And SNOWED.  A nearby town, which was also having a parade that day, cancelled their event, but V-grrrl’s town, wanting to prove that they were not a bunch of Yankee wimps, said “The Show Must Go On.”


V-grrrl’s family and I dressed in our long underwear and overcoats, and headed out to the parade route, V-grrrl’s husband carefully driving on the icy road.  The crowd on Main Street was surprisingly large for the inclement weather, but some youth group was selling hot cocoa, keeping us warm.

The first half hour, waiting for the parade to start, was magical.  The lights, the snow, the old fashioned bookstores and ice cream parlors on Main Street, the church steeple in the background, the pub where George Washington once slept, and the gentle small town faces made this scene as American as any Norman Rockwell painting.

Then, the parade started, and no offense to V-grrrl, her family, or her town, but that was the WORST parade I have ever seen.

Parents were smartly wary about sending their children marching in the snow, so half of the marching bands never showed up.  One determined high school band consisted of three people — one tuba, one drum, and a cheerleader dressed in a wool coat that prevented her from doing any of the dance moves.

In the past, the highlight of the parade was the tradition of those on the floats throwing candy out at the crowd.  V-grrrl’s kids told me of how they would come home with more booty than Halloween.   Sadly, fear of Johnny Cochran-type legal action has now taken hold in small town America.  The city banned the candy throwing — just in case some child was hit in the head with a poorly-aimed Smarties package, and the city was sued!   What a downer.   You could see it on the kids’ faces.   There was no joy in Whoville that evening.   Thank you, legal Grinches.

But that’s not all!

After the last float passed by (something about Jesus, sponsored by a hardware chain), everyone waited for the real meaning of Christmas — the ho ho ho man himself.  The crowd stood there, shivering in both the freezing cold and anticipation, waiting for the grand entrance.

Santa Claus never showed.

It was too cold and snowy, so Santa decided to just STAY HOME and watch videos!

It was truly a bad parade, and we all knew it.   Of course, that is when the fun began.  On the way home, we all devised funny editorials to the local newspaper decrying the “Santa” outrage, the best title to the editorial being, “No, Virginia, There is No Santa.”

Luckily, V-grrrl’s daughter baked a cheesecake for us to eat when we got home.

The next day, when the newspaper came out, there was a glowing review of the parade (I think they were one of the sponsors).   At the end of the article, the journalist wrote, “And lastly, Santa entertained the children, although he showed up late.”

Bullsh*t, I say!  We were there.  Santa did not show up at all.

As I took the Amtrak back to New York the next day, I thought about small towns and big cities.  Was there really that much of a difference?  We both watch the same TV shows.  We both own iphones with bird-watching apps.  And most importantly, we both have media operations that LIE TO US ABOUT SANTA!

Thanks for the great weekend, V-grrrl!

Note: The Fourth Annual Blogger Christmahanukwanzaakah Online Holiday Concert is THIS THURSDAY.   Please email me files or links by Wednesday at the latest!

David, Fake and Faker


My mother recently returned from a two week cruise along the Mediterranean in Europe.  When she first told me that she was taking this trip with a female friend, I thought it was a crazy and worthless trip — Barcelona, Nice, Cannes, Florence, Venice, Rome, Naples, Croatia, and Greece — each location for less than a day, sometimes for only a  hours.

“Why not just go to one place?” I asked her.

Now that she has returned, and told me stories of her travels, I am less cynical about her cruise because, for some, it is an ideal way to travel without the hassle.   If all you care about is a “taste” of a new locale, it is comforting to come back each night to your floating hotel.

I figured that it was seniors that mostly go on these types of cruises, but apparently I am wrong.  Families enjoy this type of trip because the kids have activities on board.   Young couples and groups of singles pre-arrange for a taxi or car service to meet them as the ship docked, and then sightsee at their own pace.  The local driver can give them insights into the city that are more personal and accurate than the script read by the typical tour bus guide.

My mother had a great time, although, as I predicted, she could hardly remember what she saw in each city.

Her travel review of each city was amusing to me because it was primarily based on the brief overview she got from looking out of  bus window and visiting tourist spots.   That’s why you need to be wary when someone gives you their opinion of a city or a restaurant.   You are never sure if  the person view is solely based on something so individual, that it makes no sense for YOU.

For example, if you asked me if I enjoyed visiting Seville, one of the world’s most beautiful cities, I would say, “No, I hated that city.”    But you would have to push me to get me to admit that the reason for my hatred of the city has nothing to do with the architecture or people, but with this hotel concierge who told Sophia and me to go to some “authentic flamenco club,” which ended up being terribly overpriced with atrocious food, and employed a dancer who was an elderly woman wearing a cast on her arm.   I hate Seville.

On the other hand, imagine some guy gets laid in Podunk.  That city could be now be THAT person’s favorite city EVER.

Are you thinking of taking a European vacation this fall?   Here are a couple of recommendations from my mother:

Barcelona:  “Loved it.  So easy to get around.  Amazing architecture.  Saw the “King Tut” exhibit that I missed when I was in New York.  Found a really cheap “chicken place” for lunch.  Would definitely return.”

Nice and Cannes:  “Pretty, but looked a lot like California by the ocean.  Not essential to go back.”

Venice:  “The most unique of all the cities I saw.  The water didn’t stink like you told me it does in August.   Elton John has a home there, but I think he mostly lives in Los Angeles.  I didn’t see too many pigeons in St. Mark’s Square.  I got tired from walking around because there are so many stairs.  Everyone needs to come to Venice at least once in  their life, although after a day, you’ve pretty much done it all, and can leave.”

Rome:  “I have to come back to Rome.  I honestly saw nothing because we were in and out of the city in a few hours.   You cannot see Rome in a few hours.    We went, we saw, but we didn’t conquer.  The Colosseum is a marvel, but I didn’t go inside.  I could spend a week in Rome.  And I had a gelato.”

Naples:  “I do not remember what we did there.  Italians put olive oil on everything.  Even at breakfast, they put their toast in olive oil.  The pizza was very thin.  I like the pizza more at Valentino’s in Queens.  We went to a leather factory, but I don’t remember if it was here or Florence.  It was way too expensive.  But the leather was as soft as butter.”

Dubrovnik, Croatia — This was the biggest surprise of them all, because I  hardly heard of the place.  Very quaint.  It feels like you are someplace exotic.  The tourist thing is this giant wall, but it is very interesting.  Not just a wall.  And they also had an old Jewish section that I heard was very interesting, but it was too far to walk.   Nice place to just relax.

Corfu, Greece — Corfu wasn’t particularly nice, and a bit dirty, but I took a bus trip up this mountain and it was beautiful.  We kept on going higher and higher and then you would look down at all the white homes and the ocean behind them, and it was like a postcard.  Or like that scene in Mama Mia.  And then we went back.

Florence, Italy – I know Florence is very famous and important, but I was not impressed.  The bus driver got lost.  There were so many churches.  Not that I have anything against churches, but there were  TOO many of them.  And we were supposed to see the David, so the tour guide brought us to see the David, and as we are all standing there, the tour guide  says that is not REALLY the David, but a FAKE David, because they moved the REAL David inside to the Accademia because it was wearing away, and we didn’t have enough time to wait in line and see him, so the first thing that comes to my mind is, “Why are we standing around looking at a FAKE David?”   And then, as we walked around courtyard some more, we saw ANOTHER David, and our tour guide said that this was a FAKER David, because at least the FAKE David was standing in the original spot where the REAL David once was once standing, so he was FAKE, but this one was FAKER.  So, we never saw the REAL David and we never found out why he wasn’t circumcised, since he was Jewish, so my impression of Florence was colored by that.  I don’t need to return to Florence.


Barcelona, Spain – A+
Nice/Cannes, France – B-
Venice, Italy – A-
Naples, Italy – B
Rome, Italy – A
Dbrovnik, Croatia – A-
Corfu, Greece – B+
Florence, Italy – FAIL

If I Could Only Bring One Carry-On Luggage to Heaven – What Will Be Inside?

The motto of the “Great Interview Experiment” is “everyone is interesting.”  But let’s be honest.  Half of my readership lives in the suburbs and works in online marketing.  How often do I get to meet a female blogger who drives an OTR truck!  Charming Bitch writes an honest and emotional blog about her life.  She will also chew your ear off in e-mail messages explaining how an OTR truck is different than other trucks.  Did you know truck stops now have wireless?   Since Shannon of Charming Bitch likes to travel, and travel lightly, I was curious about what she would bring to her final destination.    Talk about a difficult question.   But I knew she could handle  it– she’s tough enough to drive a freaking truck!

If I Could Only Bring One Carry-On Luggage to Heaven — What Will Be Inside?  by Charming Bitch

Man, I had exactly no idea what putting myself in Neil’s (capable, firm yet caressing) hands would entail. I initially thought, yes, how exciting! I only recently guest posted for the first time at someone else’s blog and it was a thrill to be asked. This though, this I signed up and volunteered for, nay begged for the opportunity and here I sit trying to post about what would be in my one carry-on to the alleged Heaven. Heavy stuff, for a not-quite-convinced-yet-not-unconvinced believer of anything but the reality of luck and the heavier weight that it is given over good, solid decisions in this life.

So many things to consider, so many things to look over in making a decision as final as packing for this place called Heaven. I am, by nature, a light traveler and I am far too neurotic to ever check a bag so a single carry-on for this last ascent (…or descent) seems appropriate yet still too much somehow. Heaven, it seems to be implied, is like Sandals Resorts and more all-inclusive than ala-carte. What from this world could I bring that would somehow add to the ambiance?  Fart jokes and porn are ruled out just on principle.

Furniture obviously wouldn’t fit in a carry on, even that annoying Swedish build-it-yourself non-sense. Clothes too seem frivolous as from what every movie has ever told me, all in attendance in Heaven adhere to a strict dress code of wings and things much like Star Trek but with less form fitting attire. Make-up too would be unseemly as again, the movies have given me the green light to believe that a rosy glow is included in the package. Electronics wouldn’t be welcome. Somehow I think God would take umbrage at the very idea of me showing up all, ”I am so totally blogging the after-life!”. I mean, I would think that with the Bible being a frillion years old they would welcome some new reading material but even I am not so emboldened as to make that call. I mean, it’s Heaven not the waiting room at Urgent Care, for Christ’s sake. FOR CHRIST’S SAKE. Oh, I kill me. I kill me dead until I die from it and go right to Heaven, it seems.

Having eliminated material possessions, I am forced to evaluate the non-tangibles. But how to pack that which you cannot see or fold into neat stacks or cram into little plastic bags. Where would I pack the love I have been fortunate enough to receive in this life? What is the proper compartment to store the lessons learned at the feet of my parents? How will I ever measure for eternal travel the feel of my husband’s hands cupping my face to kiss my forehead? How difficult, exactly, is security to get through the illustrious Pearly Gates?  Will there be a cavity search  for pocket knives and nail-clippers?  Are those Gates  manned by the same TSA  personnel as on this Earth? Will there be additional charges for bringing a surplus of joy or satisfaction? And hope! What of hope? For a good life, for security, for a safer, kinder society? May I bring that with or shall I expect it to be supplied upon registration? So many questions unanswered for a trip that must not be put off any longer.

Finally a decision is made to leave with the bag all the things people forget to put in their pockets daily. Love, passion, compassion, joy, kindness, satisfaction and hope I will abandon in the terminal with wishes that those who need it will find it, like a soul buffing kiosk right in the airport. I won’t need to bring those things where I am going because if you believe the hype and right now I really need to, I will soon be reunited with Jackson and I will have all those things in excess. Plus a really, really cool costume.

Catcha on the flip-side. Maybe.

Off to Visit Mom


How many suitcases are we bringing to New York?  (Remember, Sophia is coming with me.  And she is a woman.  A woman with a lot of shoes.  A woman who isn’t sure what shoes to wear in the snow.  A woman who dragged me along for four hours shopping in department stores for boots, but ended up not liking anything.  Are Uggs waterproof?  What do YOU wear in the snow?)

The person who first guesses most accurately how many pieces of luggage we are bringing to New York for a two and a half week visit will win — get this — a $1000 dollar gift certificate from my favorite retailer,! (that is, not, you idiots).  Ha Ha Ha, I love when my own blog post makes me laugh.

Now, bring on the NY bagels!

No Place Like Home


Sophia sometimes works with a interpreting and translation agency in Carmel, and she really likes the people who work there, but has never met any of them in person. So, today, after leaving San Francisco, we made a special detour just to visit the staff of Richard Schneider Enterprises in Carmel. Apparently, the bunch is as nice in person as they are on the phone. Have you ever seen a happier group of people? This is what you look like when you work in beautiful Carmel.

We were supposed to stay in Carmel for the night, but we decided we were homesick, even for ugly Los Angeles, so off we went… back home, fighting the traffic along the way.

So, we’re home! Home at last. It’s so wonderful to be looking out the window again, seeing the beautiful scenery and listening to the running water in the lovely creek outside our living room.


Wait. That’s not a creek I hear. That’s the broken toilet upstairs. And that photo is not from Los Angeles. That’s a photo I took at Applegate Lake near Ashland, Oregon, right before we stopped at that little cafe and drank some hot apple cider. Over here, we look into the living room of the five surfer dudes who live next to us, the ones who blast Nirvana at 2AM in the morning and leave bottles of Corona on the street.

But it’s good to be home… no more sharing a laptop with Sophia, which means MORE blogging!

All in all, we had a great time on our West Coast Bloggers Tour 2007.


It was a pleasure to meet so many of you. Now, it’s time to go to Danny’s and see the rest of my birthday cards and gifts! By the time I finish celebrating my birthday this year, it will be my NEXT birthday.

I apologize for not reading many blogs in the last two weeks. Now, it’s time for me to catch up with YOU. Once, when I went on vacation, I complained about finding it difficult to keep up with your blogs, and I asked you to help me keep connected by writing a quick summary of your lives in my comments.

Have you noticed that I didn’t ask you to do it for me during this trip?

The reason is that by now, I know you so well, I KNOW what you are writing about without having to actually read anything —

  • 4 of you are depressed.
  • 2 of you are having problems with your husband.
  • 3 of you are having trouble with your teenage daughter.
  • 2 of you are worried that your newborn baby is making you a boring person.
  • 2 of you are worried about drinking too much chardonnay with other mothers during playtime.
  • 4 of you need to get laid NOW!
  • 1 of you did get laid, and it wasn’t very good.
  • 3 of you are reading David Sedaris again.
  • 2 of you think “Gilmore Girls” has jumped the shark.
  • 2 of you are impressed with how the Google Reader is helping with your blog reading.
  • 3 of you got drunk for the third time this week.
  • 4 of you really hate George Bush.
  • 2 of you are writing poems about your depression.
  • 3 of you have been lazy and are just posting “funny” videos from YouTube.
  • 2 of you went on bad dates with men who falsely described themselves as taller and richer on
  • 3 of you are badmouthing the “bitch” you ex-boyfriend is sleeping with.
  • 5 of you are writing about the new shoes you just bought.
  • 4 of you are describing your bikini wax.
  • 5 of you are saying that you met Sophia and me, and liked Sophia better.

A Year Ago on Citizen of the Month: LA is So Laid Back

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