Getting There Is Half the Fun

Rome, Italy, 9/27. At 5:30 we boarded our flight to Rome, and settled in for the long ride. After about an hour, Sara had to use the onboard necessary facility. She had a little trouble with the folding door. The strategically placed sign that said “PUSH” was placed exactly five feet high, exactly two inches above her sight line. So, instead of pushing on the right side of the door, she was pulling on the left side. When she ripped the door handle off, she realized that there may be another way to get into the lav.

We arrived in Rome on time, and on time to join 50,000 other visitors trying to get through passport security. It was like Black Friday at Walmarts. From there we headed to the carousel to pick up our luggage, hooking up with the other couples on our adventure, who flew in from Washington and Tucson. As we’re waiting for the bags to come around, a woman standing next to Tom was pulling her 200 lb. suitcase off the carousel. She easily weighed double that, and the horrific odor coming from her ample body caused Tom to have an allergy attack. I didn’t realize that he was allergic to camel sweat.

We then walked halfway to the Vatican getting to the rental office to pick up the two vans. They were actually more like two mini-buses and handled about the same. Mine had such a large turning radius, that driving down the exit ramps of the five-story parking garage required a three-point turn at every floor.

After loading the people and luggage, we were on the road. The Autostrada between Rome and Naples runs through a lush valley that separates two magnificent mountain ranges. The mountaintops, hidden by high clouds, made them seem even higher. The six-lane road took us through Naples, which bore an amazing similarity to Newark. On the other side of Naples, we came to the Mediterranean Sea, which was just magnificent.

Leaving the highway, we then drove the local roads across the peninsula and into Sorrento. Like many cities in Europe, this one had entered the contest to see how many buildings it could fit in the least amount of space, with no regard for transportation. We figured that the building codes have a setback ordinance of 9” and people encroached on that. The streets, designed for men sitting on their asses are so narrow that two full size pickup trucks could not fit side by side on the widest street in Sorrento.

Our hotel was a former palace, built in 600. It was on a street (which we had a difficult time finding) that was so narrow, Tom could reach out and come within one foot of touching the walls on both sides.

And speaking of Tom, it was his birthday, as was Bill’s a few days earlier, so Chris arranged a lavish meal at a local restaurant, including the most wonderful triple chocolate rum cake anyone ever had. Even though we spent an insane amount of money, it was an extraordinary dining experience.

Get Outta Town

Saturday, 9/25, Tampa, FL. We haven’t left the state yet, but the fun has already begun. Being the savvy travelers that we are, and having taken Peter Schatz’s advice, we checked into the Hyatt Place in Tampa. Our flight is tomorrow at 7:30 AM, and here we’re only five minutes from the airport. And we can park free while we’re in Europe.

We’re traveling with Chris & Bob Stout, and they have never been to the International Mall, so we decided to go there for dinner. Since we’re heading for Italy, I’m looking for a restaurant with “Trattoria” in the name, but the girls settle for The Blue Martini. They claim it’s because everything is half price until 8 PM. And everything was, including the food!

We walked into a pitch-black sports bar with football games on every TV and college-age kids screaming at the sets. There wasn’t one patron that was within 45 years of my age. (Now this is dinner atmosphere.) Looking for someone to seat us, Sara walks up to a very large (football player-size) African American who is dressed like an adult. She taps him on the kneecap and asks if he works at the restaurant. He says, “Actually, I’m with the band.” So I respond, “That’s great! Sara wants to audition.” I’m really thinking, with all this noise, how are we going to deal with band music too?

So we find a hightop in the quietest corner of the place, and a perky waitress come over to take our drink order. All the wait staff were wearing these camisole tops with push-up bras underneath. It was like Hooter’s in underwear. Every time one walked by I remembered the section we parked in (42D).

Everyone orders martinis, except me (I’m driving), and I order a glass of cabernet. “Honeycups” brings the martinis, which include a shaker of the overflow, plus my wine. We then order our entrees and start drinking the beverages. Expecting the martinis to be the usual watered down version, the three of them chug their drinks, while I savor my vintage (screw-cap) wine. You don’t expect gourmet food in an environment like this, but when it comes out, the presentation is a surprise, and each dish is outstanding! We quaff it down, just as the band starts playing. Since the half price deal ends in five minutes, we order another round, or was it two?

Halfway through the second round (I’m counting six full glasses of wine on the table, plus some martinis) Sara leans over and says “Let’s dansh.” The music is really good, so we join the kids on the floor and start to boogie. Sara realizes that she has already had tee many martoonis, and starts to flounder. She’s desperately hanging on my arm as I call over the manager and ask him if he has a pole she can hold onto. Well, you can picture the rest.

I did manage to get her back to the table, where she started a conversation with the couple at the next hightop, telling them that we are going on vacation, and she had a little too mush to drink. I apologized to them for my “daughter” interrupting their date. We paid the check and got the hell out of there, laughing all the way back to the car. Chris comment that Sara is like a cartoon character.

Reach Out and Touch Someone

Have you talked to your phone company lately? It’s a truly emotional experience, similar to talking to Support Services at your computer company.

I’m simply trying to temporarily transfer my cell phone number to the global phone I’m taking to Europe. So I dial the carrier 1-800-EXASPERATE and I get the usual mechanical voice prompts: “Please listen carefully as our options have been downgraded.” Dial one for English, two for Spanish, three for Swahili . . . All others remain on the line.” “In order to serve you better, please enter your 10 digit phone number followed by the pound sign. What is your date of birth? What is your mother’s maiden name? What city were you born? Please wait while I retrieve your records.” (Time passes) “All of our representatives are busy helping other helpless victims, so please hold on and your call will be answered in the order it was received. We can’t give you an estimated time because we’re still assisting extremely dense people that called three days ago.” (More time passes)

The elevator music stops and I think someone is going to pick up, but instead I get a recorded message. “Did you know that your telecommunications carrier has just been acquired by the Pullet Pellet Company, making us the largest communication and manure company in the world? (I’m thinking: Are they going to compete with the Federal Government? Much more time passes and I’m starting to get antsy.)

“Hell-ou, I am helping you. My name is Dillip.”
“Hi Phillip. I have a simple . . .”
“No, no sir, it is Dillip, not Philip. For security purposes, can you give me your 10 digit telephone number, your date of birth, your mothers maiden . . .”
“Hang on Phillip, Dillip, Dollop, or whatever the frig your name is. I gave that information at the beginning of the call, early this morning.”
“Oh, sir, that’s impossible, it’s not morning yet.” (That’s when I realized that I was talking to someone in Bombay.”
“Look, Dillip, all I want to do is transfer my cell number to this global phone.”
“This is also too bad sir, but I cannot be helping you with this matter. Please hold the line and I will transfer to you the correct department.” (More time passes, so I start making lunch with the phone on speaker mode.)

“This is Imelda, how can I be of service?”

“I guess Dillip didn’t explain that I’m trying to transfer my cell number to a global phone.”
“Oh no darling. I cannot be of help to you. I will get someone to assist you immediately.” (Endlessly more time passes, while I make an afternoon snack reciting “Serenity Now, Serenity Now.”)

“Good morning to you, this is Mr. Galani, from the Global Phone Service Department. May I be of service?” (Home at last. I feel relieved.)
“Hi Mr. G. How’s the weather in the Philippines?”
“Actually sir, I am in Pakistan. Now before I can assist you, please give me the 10 digit telephone number, your date of birth . . .“
“Whoa, there Galani. I gave that friggin’ information out three times and there’s no damn way I’m doing it again. You figure it out. Better yet, get your supervisor on the line. And make it fast. I’ve been on hold so long I need another shower.” (Lots more time elapses, so I start searching the medicine cabinet for the Valium.)

“Hello sir, this is Mr. Mamood, the supervising director on the line with Mr. Galani. What is the problem with you providing your 10 digit number and the other information?”
“Aaaagh! Do you people have any idea what you’ve put me through today? I am going insane. You’re so smug and polite, and now you have me so crazed, I’m getting suicidal.”
When they heard that, they got very excited, and Mamood said, “Suicidal? Can you drive a truck?”