Saturday, January 30, 2010

Next Stop: Not Where You Live

I was going to do another installment of the 5-Song Shuffle but instead I'm going to talk about the time a strange man drove me home. This is a story I've told to people before but this is the first time I'm going to tell what actually happened.

It was 1985 and I was a dorky 15-year-old kid who had gotten into collecting comic books (wow, I bet you never saw that coming). My friends and I would travel to Allston from Malden to go to New England Comics (which at the time was on Brighton Ave in an office building but now they're around the corner on Harvard St. They later opened a store right in Malden Square in the old Jordan Marsh building. That store was the shit. They're still in Malden on the same street but further up). Every Saturday we'd take two separate buses and spend all our money on comics. I was obsessed with Daredevil and I was trying to get all the back issues (especially the Frank Miller ones from the early 80's). Usually after we had all our comics we'd then go over to Herrell's Ice Cream to get a "smooshed-in" ice cream. For those not in the know, a smooshed-in is the ice cream flavor of your choice with any number of other goodies folded into it. I know that now there's Cold Stone Creamery but back then this was a revolutionary idea to a fat kid like me. Basically those Saturdays when we went into town were all kinds of awesome.

That being said, it also took all goddamn day to get to and from Allston on public transportation. None of us were old enough to drive and in the winter, it was a real bitch to be standing on the bus platform at Sullivan Station waiting for the bus to show up. That place is like an evil wind tunnel. So when on a lovely summer afternoon my oldest sister Theresa (a.k.a. "Tree") invited me to go with her and HER friends into Boston to go buy records and comic books I jumped at the chance. Not only for the fact that my college-going older sister was acknowledging my existence (which was cool enough) but also cuz they were going to Newbury St., specifically Newbury Street Comics. Up until this point my record-buying experience had been limited to places I could either walk or ride my bike to without too much effort. This meant my choices were pretty limited. Going to there would mean that not only could I buy comics but also music!

Growing up in Malden meant that most of my MBTA experience was limited to buses or the Orange Line. And not even the whole length of the Orange Line either..I'm talking just from Malden Center to Downtown Crossing. My friends and I used to jump on the train to go to this cheesy store called "Stairway to Heaven" (no, they were not kidding) where we would buy posters of our favorite musicians and/or half naked women. The store also sold other things like bumper stickers, rock t-shirts, incense sticks, crappy skull rings and the like. In other words: we loved it. But it was a rare thing for me to transfer to other train lines. I stuck with what I knew. My navigation skills were terrible and I didn't like new places (they have improved now but I still get very nervous if I'm going somewhere unfamiliar).

In order to get to the store it meant we would have to transfer from the Orange to the Green line. Yikes! The Green line has a buncha different trains that went to god-knows-where and if you hopped on the wrong one, you would be raped by horrible people and end up dead in a dumpster behind a sex shop. Or at least that's what my mother had led me to believe. But I was with my sis and she'd been going this way for ages so I'd be totally safe! I just tagged along and tried to not be annoying which for a 15-year-old boy is really hard to do. We got to the store with no drama and it was better than I had hoped. I'm all jaded and curmudgeonly now but I can still remember going into what (back then anyway) was a for-realsies record store. Now-a-days Newbury Comics has a bunch of locations and is leaning more to the mainstream than they used to, but back in 1985? It was my new favorite place (side note: my 11-year-old nephew Cam has recently discovered Newbury Comics himself. He loves going in there because for a kid that age, it's like heaven).

I spent all of my money (this will come into play soon) on comics and some cassette tapes of local bands who's names I liked (I can't remember the names now though). I was totally over-stimulated. We all left the store and spilled out onto the super busy street. There were people everywhere and all of them were way cooler than anyone I'd seen in Malden. I was totally having the best day ever and all because my sister wanted to hang out with me. Awesome! We walked down the street a bit and I was talking to one of her friends about the cassette I just bought. He was telling me how he'd seen that band (!!) and how I should get this other band's tape cuz he thought I'd like it better. Wow! Thanks! I'm being included in a college-age conversation! Then Tree came over and told me that they were going to go grab some lunch and it was time for me to go home. I'm sorry, what?!

I was crushed. I don't mean to sound like a big baby but c'mon now people...I'm TOTALLY a big baby. Have you not learned this by now? She asked me if I had enough for train fare which I did but .. can't I just come with you guys? No, I don't have any money left for lunch. Ok, fine. I'll go. Just point me in the direction of the train station and I'll be on my way. Hmph. And she did. She told me EXACTLY what to do and where to go. I went to the train station and looked at the signs. Tree had sent me to the Inbound side and to me that made absolutely no sense. I knew from my years of experience on the Orange line that when I'm in Boston and I want to take the train home, I should get on the Outbound train. Perfect logic no? No. Not really.

What I failed to understand that in the mysterious and wondrous world of the Green line is that in order to get back to my beloved Orange line and ultimately the apartment in Malden, I would need to go inbound to get to the outbound train. I know. It's totally fucking counter-intuitive. This is why I said to myself there is NO WAY I should get on the inbound train. I went over to the outbound side of the station all confidently, thinking Tree doesn't know what she's talking about. She's so out of touch with Boston (she had been going to college in Pennsylvania) that she doesn't even understand how to use the T.

The trolley pulled into the station and I got on board. I found a place to stand near the doors and off we went. Everything was going smoothly. I had some new comics to read, I had a couple of cassettes to listen to and I was on my way back home. I had even gotten over being dismissed from lunch. Let me just check to see what station we're at here...hmmm, that name doesn't look familiar. I'm sure it's fine though. Park Station must be the next one. I'll get off there and go catch the Orange line train to Malden. The train continued on and suddenly we came out of the tunnel and we were on the surface street. Whoa! What the fuck is this all about? I certainly don't remember seeing this on the way INTO the city. None of this looks familiar. I stood there unable to think about how to fix the situation. The train made stop after stop and finally I thought "get off the train now!!" So without saying a word to the trolley driver (are they called engineers?) I jumped off at the next stop which was Brookline Village. It didn't occur to me until years later (seriously) that I could have just talked to the driver and told him that I had gotten on the wrong train. I'm sure he would have just given me a transfer or something to get back onto the correct train.

Instead of walking over to an MBTA employee, or a fellow commuter or anyone really, I just started walking. Where was I? Where am I going? How am I supposed to get home now? I literally had no money on me. Not even enough to use a pay phone. I just started walking down the street and tried not to panic. I also didn't have a watch so I could only guess as to what time it was and that's when I realized that aside from my sister Theresa, no one knows that I'm in Boston. My mom would be coming home from work soon and she'd flip out if I was gone with no explanation. There was a couple of people walking towards me and so I asked them where the nearest police station was. That's a good idea right? I'm a lost kid miles from home, I should totally go to the police. They'll sort this out for me. The people I chose to ask were not from Brookline and one of them said that he thought the police station was behind me on Washington St. (it is). I thanked them and went in the complete opposite direction up Harvard St. No, I don't know why. I just did. I wonder what they thought about that.

I continued up Harvard St. not really understanding why and not having any idea of what to do next. I was in full panic mode by this time. And then, at the corner of Harvard and School streets. I lost my shit. I just started blubbering. Imagine that you're walking down a lovely tree-lined street in a busy area bustling with people and shops and you come across a chubby 15-year-old kid standing on the corner crying. You'd totally cross the street to avoid him right? You might even think some less than progressive thoughts about his masculinity (or perhaps you aren't an ass like me). But one brave soul did just the opposite of that. This guy in a business suit came right up to me and said "Hey, what's the matter?" I fucking unleashed all my panicky freak-out sobbing on him. "I-I-I'm l-l-lost! I don't k-k-know where I am! I have no m-money to get h-home! My m-mom is g-gonna kill me!" And this dude, rather than laughing in my face at what a total bitch I was being, said "Hold on. I can take you home. You want to call home first and let them know you're all right?" I nodded with tears rolling down my face."Ok, my office is right in this building. Let's go in and you can call your mom. Then I'll take you home." Did I mention that I was a sophomore in high school? Yea...

I'd like to take a second here to point out that I had no fear of this guy and no red flags came up. What I don't get is he did not offer to take me to the police station or anything like that. If I was confronted with the same scenario as an adult, that is the number one thing that I would have done. Actually, the number one thing I'd have done is to keep on walking the fuck by the kid in the first place. I just don't like drama y'see. But this guy was totally into helping me. We went into his building and he let me use a phone to call home. I called and my sister Mary picked up. My mom wasn't home from work yet (it was probably around 3 o'clock or so I'm guessing). I said to Mary that I'm coming home now and she was like "Ok, whatever." Ah, sibling love. See, she didn't react how I wanted her to react (something along the lines of "OMG! I'm sooooo glad to hear that you're safe after all you've been through! When will you be home dearest brother?! Hurry!!") because she had no idea about the terrifying adventure that I had been on all afternoon. I ended the call and my new hero said "Are you ready to go?" Yessir, I sure am.

I don't remember what kind of car he had but I do remember that it was a new one. It was so much cooler than the cars my family had (a 1973 Vega and a 1978 Plymouth Volare station wagon that used to be a Boston cab...sweet rides indeed). We got in and he said that he knew how to get to Malden but I'd have to direct him to the house. It was at this moment that I first realized I was now in the car of a complete stranger. This stranger had promised that he would be taking me home but I really had no idea if he was lying or not. We drove off and the combination of having no idea where I was and my own poor navigation skills left me really disoriented. I'm sure we talked about stuff but I can't remember a word of it. We drove and drove for what seemed like a really long time but suddenly I started to recognize stuff. Hey! There's that place that's kinda near my house! I was able to direct him right to my front door. He pulled up and we said our goodbyes. I got out and went into the apartment. What? What'd you think happened? The dude just took me home, just like he promised. He didn't even ask to meet my parents or anything like that. He just dropped me off, and drove away. I don't even remember his name.

Here's where I caught hell. My mom was furious at me and my sister Theresa for "abandoning" me in Boston (she really didn't but there was no arguing with mom). She asked me how I got home. I thought about it for a second and figured that telling her I willingly got into a car with some guy that I don't know would have pushed her over the edge. She was looking at me waiting for my answer and I said "A Brookline cop drove me home. He lives in Medford." It was as near perfect an answer that I could muster and she believed me. The thing is, I've been telling people that very same lie for 25 years. That includes the Wiff. So, this is me clearing up a story that no one cared about in the first place except me. There was no Brookline cop who lives in Medford who drove me home in a cop car. I happened to stumble across an honest-to-goodness good Samaritan who took pity on me and helped me.

So why lie about this for so long? I don't know. Why come clean about something so innocuous after all this time? Well, believe it or not, that lie has been bothering me for years. I don't like lying. I try my best to be upfront and honest with my friends and family and this relatively small lie seemed to undermine my whole philosophy. Sounds a little corny or perhaps disingenuous but I'm serious. It's important to me that the stories I tell are truthful and that one wasn't.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Original House of Style

So on Tuesday, January 12th, the Wiff and I set out on our trip from Kinsale to Galway. The rain was really coming down hard and the wind was gusting to gale force. We made our way up the now snow-free driveway of our hotel and then back down the access road into Kinsale itself. It was unfortunate that the weather was as inclement as it was because Kinsale looked really interesting. The roads were pretty empty as most people were probably already at work by the time we set out. We thought about maybe going into a couple of shops in town but honestly that wind driven rain didn't look too inviting. It was almost coming down sideways. We're going to have to come back in the spring or summer so that we can really explore this town.

The roads were much improved with the occasional exception of some of the hills. Due to the rain itself and the melting snow there was some standing water on some of the roads and on a couple of the hills the water made the road look like a mini river. Luckily the little Prius retained its composure and we got to Galway without much incident. We only got lost in Galway itself for a little bit (and yes, the Wiff sorted it by going to a fire station and asking for directions...honestly I'd still be driving around in circles on the outskirts of the city this very moment if I was left to my own devices) and when we found the hotel I was happy to find out that yes, they did have parking. We weren't positive that this place would since it was right down by the docks and space is a bit tight.

That first night after a nap we went downstairs to the hotel bar. We sat at the bar and chatted to the bartender Mike. I really liked the atmosphere in the place. During the week I guess the hotel has a lot of business people staying there (and there was a party of peeps who were definitely having the business meeting/dinner at one of the tables) but the vibe wasn't too formal at all. The food was pretty kick ass too. We had been in Galway a few years earlier when we did the bus tour thing (aka the Cliff's Notes tour of Ireland) but we'd only had 3 hours to look around. This time around we had booked 3 nights in the city and so we asked Mike what he would recommend we check out. That's always a loaded question I realize and he must dread being asked it. Ah well, he came up with some good options and the Wiff also had some ideas of things she wanted to see too.

The next day we got up and walked around the city. The last time we were there I had bought the Wiff a claddagh ring at Thomas Dillons on Quay St. Unfortunately it had broken and she had had it repaired in the states. Whoever did the repair didn't exactly do a great job so we knew that stop #1 was going to be this shop. We walked in and the guy behind the counter said he could repair the ring and it would only take about an hour. Schweet. See you then Mr. Awesome. We walked around some more and went to this great little coffee shop at the end of Quay St. near the river Corrib and the Spanish Arch. When we went back to pick up the ring (which he repaired at no cost by the way. Their rings have a lifetime warranty), the repair was so perfect and the ring had been buffed to its original shine that the Wiff was convinced that he hadn't actually repaired her ring but had instead just replaced it (thinking that maybe the damage was too great to make a decent repair). It wasn't until later on when she was looking at it more closely when we were having lunch at the Quay Pub that she realized that no, this was in fact her original ring. That guy was just that damn good. Pretty cool. 

We walked all around going from shop to shop basically doing up the whole tourist bit, taking pictures and spending money on things we don't really need. We ended up at the Galway City Museum which is an excellent place to visit. It goes through the history of the area and how people used to get by. Kinda made me realize what a weenie I am. It was a really good day all in all. That night we went were going to go back down to the hotel bar but we'd had a late lunch so neither of us was hungry. Plus, we had planned on taking a drive out to the Connemara region to visit Kylemore Abbey so we needed to get some sleep. The Wiff had noticed the poster above the hotel computer (this hotel was cool cuz it had a computer in the lobby hooked up to the interwebs that guests could use for freebies. For a nerd like me that was a truly welcome thing) and checked out the drive to the abbey. It looked like a really nice day trip and the weather promised to behave.

And so on Thursday the 14th, our last full day in Ireland, we set out on our day trip to go see Kylemore Abbey. The Wiff and I are big fans of the day trip. When we both finally got our driver's licenses (me at age 25, the Wiff at age 28) we would rent a car on some weekends just to take a day trip up to Maine or Franconia Notch in NH. This trip out to the Connemara would be just like that. Just a real chill experience. By this time I was fairly comfortable with driving on the opposite side and luckily we didn't hit any sheep during the ride. This area has a lot of free-range grazing sheep who like nothing better than just wandering out onto the road. At one point we came around a pretty blind corner and HEY LOOKOUT there's a sheep's butt right in our way. My mad drivin' skillz of course came into play and we did not make mutton outta him (or her). I didn't even beep. That's rare for a Bostonian and even rarer for me.

We finally made it to the abbey (after only getting lost once...and yes, the Wiff went into a post office to ask for directions..for those of you keeping score at home: she has by this time gone to a police station, a fire station and a post office to ask for directions) after a really nice drive through some beautiful country. We pulled into the parking lot for the visitor center and it was immediately clear that the place was closed. There was no other vehicle in the lot. We got out, walked over to the ticket booth and discovered that yes, they are closed. Now keep in mind that we had gone on the website earlier and there was no notice that they'd be closed. As a matter of fact, the site said they were open. Ah well.  It was disappointing that we couldn't check out the buildings themselves but after all the crap we'd been through up to this point, it didn't phase us. We took some pictures and headed back to the car. As we approached the car we came across 5 women from Michigan. Of course, that's common way out in the middle of western Ireland in the middle of January. They were students who had walked all the way from town to come to see the abbey. I broke the news to them and considering they claimed to have walked for 3 hours to get there they took the news rather well. They took a couple of pics of the Wiff and me but unfortunately those were the ones that our camera decided to eat.

We drove back to the hotel and had dinner at the bar again while chatting with Mike and Kevin (another bartender at the hotel). Thanks to Galway and the Connemara (and the great staff at the bar) our vacation had been saved. For the most part the vacation had lived up to the extremely vague expectations I had. I'm glad that I was in Ireland for my 40th birthday. That essentially was the entire point of the trip really. I wanted to be there and so we saved our money and went. Ireland is a beautiful country with great people and lots to offer. The only thing is I would caution against going there in the winter. Trust me on this one.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

You Can Check Out Any Time You Like...

The morning of Sunday, January 10th we checked out of The Shittiest Hotel Ever and headed across Dublin to retrieve our rental car. It was snowing (of course) and the hotel staff didn't even think that any taxis would be running in the city. Oh come on. Luckily there was at least one brave soul who dared drive in this weather and he took us to the car rental place. Now bear in mind that we had paid for everything for this trip up front (which is why we stayed at The Shittiest Hotel Ever and didn't just leave to find a better place...we would have lost that cash if we had) and one of the things we had purchased from our travel agent was insurance. We had the whole kit and caboodle from life, accidental this and that, trip insurance (in case the flight had been canceled or something) and car rental insurance. When we presented the little brochure thing to the woman behind the counter she pointed out that the car rental insurance does not list Ireland so we would have to purchase additional insurance. Oh, fuck you Dublin. Fuck you long and hard.

So 380 euro later we get our car. Originally we had reserved a Ford Focus but "because of the misunderstanding" they offered to bump us up to a bigger car. Oh sweet! Hey Dublin, sorry about what I just said in that last paragraph...maybe we just got off on the wrong foot y'know? Let's give this another try ok? Like a fresh start. Whattaya say? The car that they upgraded us to? A Prius. Oh, fuck you Dublin. We jump into the car and head off. Luckily, being that it was Sunday morning and presumably the entire city was sleeping off a real banger of a hangover, we had the roads to ourselves. This was a really good thing as they had still not plowed (did I mention that they don't plow? or shovel? oh I had? ok). I figured (wrongly it turned out) that once we got out of the city limits and onto the motorway that the surface would be in much better shape. Not really. The travel lanes on the dual carriageway were slushy and somewhat clear but the passing lanes and all the on and off ramps were completely snow and/or ice covered and dangerous.

We drove for what seemed like hours and hours but it must have been about 3 total or so and we finally made into Cork. The snow was still coming down and mixing with sleet as we pulled into the city and it gave it a real ominous tone. Cork is a pretty industrial city and with the grey sky and grey stone walls it wasn't giving off a "hey, come on and hang out here" vibe. I'm not saying Cork isn't a great place, I honestly have no idea since all we did was just drive through (getting lost a couple times in the process). It's just that on that particular day, Cork wasn't having it. "Move along fatty", it seemed to say. And I listened. I was still smarting from kick in the balls that Dublin delivered.

Kinsale is a small town about 20 miles or so south of Cork. It is, and I hate to use this term but I think it fits: quaint. We rolled into town (having missed the turn to our hotel) at around 3:30 pm on Sunday. Unfortunately the snow had picked up again and since it was going to be getting dark soon we decided to head up to our hotel and check in. There'd be plenty of time on Monday (the 11th, my birthday) to explore the town and enjoy ourselves. The forecast was for a mostly sunny day with temperatures in the high 30's. Hey, things are looking up here. The access road to the hotel was this tiny, narrow road that twisted its way up a slippery hill. We were behind this SUV and they were having some trouble getting up the road. Finally after creeping up the hill at a break neck 8 miles an hour we made it to the entrance to the hotel. The hotel driveway was yet another tiny road that was so narrow that they had places on it where a car could pull over so that one going in the opposite direction could pass. Um, excuse me, if you're going to go through the trouble of carving out these spaces for 2 cars to move around each other, why not make the whole driveway that wide the entire length? No? Ok.

The driveway led back down the same hill we had come up to the hotel itself. At this point the snow had kicked it up another notch and while the Wiff went in to check us in, I went to park the car in the almost empty parking lot. As I was sitting in the car I noticed that the exit ramp that led back out to the hotel driveway was not only steep but covered in snow and ice. Uh oh...Ah, fergettit. I'm sure by the time we get up, have our breakfast and take some pics out on the veranda of the bay this'll all be melted. After all, snow doesn't stick around in Ireland right? Isn't that why they don't bother plowing and shoveling? I gathered myself and made my way into the hotel. The Wiff had our room keys already and we set off for our room. Let me back up a bit here. First of all this hotel is gorgeous. From the grounds to the lobby to the furniture in the lobby, everything just worked. I was pleased. Oh holy shit I hope to hell they have hot water! Aaaaaaaaand drum roll please....THEY DID! Hooray! I can finally scrub my nuts! Oh christ in a bucket am I thrilled! That night we even had a lovely dinner at the hotel bar while chatting with the bartender. I think I like this place.

The next morning after the first really good night of sleep that we'd had since arriving in the country, we woke up to a really pretty day (and we still had hot water!!). The sun was out and there was actual blue sky visible. Holy shit! Check it out! Ireland is all pretty and stuff:

These 2 shots are of the same area just across the bay from our hotel. The little cluster of houses is visible in the center of the bottom pic.

Wow. Boy, that sure beats the ever lovin' shit out of where I live. We walked around the deck of the hotel taking pictures and generally getting used to the idea that perhaps our luck on this vacation had finally turned for the better and maybe, just maybe we could relax and start having some fun. We went back to the room to figure out where in town we wanted to go. After getting an idea of some places to check out (including Fishy Fishy, a restaurant my boss had recommended we try out) we piled into the car and took off. Remember the long driveway that goes uphill? On one side of this driveway is a rocky slope that while not steep enough to kill you necessarily it certainly would ruin your day. On the other side is the uphill side of that same slope with very large rocks forming a wall. "What about the snow and ice", you ask? It was still there. I forced that little car and its anemic engine (the car did not have snow tires or even all-weather tires on by the way...did you know that snow is rare in Ireland?) all the way up to the point in the drive where there was a 45 degree bend to an even steeper uphill section just before the hotel gates. Right in front of me was what appeared to be an even smaller access road that looked like it might be another way out without trying to get this car up that hill. I made an attempt and realized pretty quickly that no, this was not a good way to go when the car sank up to its rims in mud. Don't make me mad at you won't like me when I'm mad.

I managed to wrestle the car from the grip of the mud (due to my mad driving skillz) and backed up to the point of the newer steeper incline. It was grinning its icy cold grin at me. "C'mon and try me you giant-headed, whiny cunt", it said. Boy, that's one rude imaginary voice. I backed up a little bit more and then made my first attempt. Fail. I backed up again and shifted the retarded Prius transmission into whatever the equivalent of 1st gear is (it's like "B" or something...I forget. Toyota can blow me) and made another attempt. Fail. This fail had the extra added bonus of more sliding than I was comfortable with. I tried one more time but the car just didn't have enough torque to pull us up the drive and since it also was a turn, I couldn't get enough momentum to simply power my way up. I looked at the Wiff and said, "Look, I don't know that I'm ever going to make it up this hill and if I do make it, what do you think the access road into town is going to be like?" We sighed together and I did a 32 point turn to get the car pointed back down the driveway to the hotel.

When we finally got back to the hotel we went right up to the front desk to ask to talk to the manager. When the manager showed up, a nice guy to be sure, I asked him why is it that they have not done ANY treating of the surface to allow people to get out of the hotel. He went right into the now very familiar explanation of how y'know it never snows here and usually when it does, the snow doesn't stick blah blah blah. I pointed out that it does indeed stick as I'm fucking looking at it right now. He then suggested that we wait an hour (it was about 1 pm. and I can't figure out why waiting an hour was any kind of a solution) and try again. He said that if we did end up getting stuck again (and we would have) that he'd come help to push us out. Oh. My. God. Are fucking kidding me? This is the best solution that you can come up with? I asked him about the giant tractor that was parked at the entrance to the hotel gate yesterday when we arrived. It had a big ol' bucket attached to the front of it. "Why not use that thing to scrape the snow off of the hill? Wouldn't that be a better idea?" He just chuckled and said that they can't do that because of liability issues. He apologized about the icy conditions but said there's little that he could do beyond the "push you" idea. He also verified my concern that if the hotel's driveway was that bad, then the access road into Kinsale was sure to be as bad if not worse.

And that's why we didn't get to go into town. We ended up hanging out in the hotel and having a really good dinner in the restaurant. Since there were only about 20 guests in the whole place the restaurant was almost empty. The next day we woke up to a giant rainstorm with winds of gale force. Ok, Ireland, now you're just fucking with me. I looked out the window and at least the snow had all gone away but now in its place were hundreds of tree branches and, in one case, an entire bush. We checked out and headed on our way with the hope that perhaps Galway will be the savior of this trip. I know I said this'd only be 2 entries but I think another is in order to wrap this all up.

Boo! Rainy, icky.

Next time: Galway. Will it be on fire? Will there be any water at all besides the stuff falling from the sky threatening to wash out the roads? How many Guinness does it take to get me drunk? Tune in, same Bat time, same Bat channel,

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Oh, This is Why People Don't Go to Ireland in the Winter

And just like that, my vacation is over. So how was it? Well, it had its ups and downs and I think what I'll do is split the story into two posts for absolutely no real reason. Deal with it. Wow, why am I so abusive? I have like 3 people who read this thing and you'd think I'd be nicer to them.

Our flight out to Dublin on Thursday (Jan. 7) was due to leave Logan at 6:10 or something and so being the good lil' doobies that we are, the Wiff and I got to the airport at just after 3 pm. Neither one of us thought to check to see that the flight was going to leave on time since the weather in Boston was clear and sunny. Yea, that may be so but in Dublin it was snowing so the plane was delayed. Our new departure time was 8:30. Crap. Ok, we now have 5 and a half hours to kill. Let's go sit in the terminal and watch people walk by! And that's pretty much what we did.

Then the flight was delayed again. And again. Finally at about 9:30 we were allowed to board and we took off at about 10:15 pm. Boy, that sucked but whatever! We're on vacation bitches! Dublin here we come! I didn't sleep on the plane as my usual position for sleep is not sitting upright with my knees getting crushed as a baby screams nearby while some dude shares his H1N1 with everyone around him. Good thing the air in here is totally recycled. Oh good, the baby just shit itself. Awesome, only 6 more hours to go.

When we land in Dublin I got my first sight of the "terrible weather" that had crippled the airport and caused so many delays in and out of the airport. They had received 5 centimeters of snow. Do you know how much that is in inches? I do. I looked that shit up. It's just under 2 inches. Really Ireland? You can't handle 2 inches (hee, is that the other side of the "Irish curse"...ahem, sorry)? After customs, baggage claim and a cab ride we got to our hotel at 11:45 am on Friday the 8th. All we wanted to do was have a nice warm shower and maybe take a nap. Check-in was at 3 pm but we were told by our travel agent that since it's the off-season, most likely the room will be ready earlier than that. Nope. That was totally not true. The woman behind the counter was not moved at all by our whimpering and said that we could not check-in early. We asked if they could watch our bags for us while we decided what to do with ourselves for the next 3 hours and they said they would ... for 3 euro. Oh, fuck you.

After paying the 3 euro (shutup), the Wiff and I tried to come to a decision about how to kill the time. The main problem is that we were both so goddamn tired by this point that we ended up just hanging out and napping in the lobby of the hotel. We paid 3 euro for nothing is what I'm getting at here. We had thought about just exploring the immediate area around our hotel but did I mention the snow? Let me explain: in Dublin they DO NOT PLOW the streets. Nor do they shovel the sidewalks. Oh, but surely they must treat the surfaces, otherwise the whole city would become a skating rink within a few hours right? No, they have not invested in salt and have never heard of ice-melting chemicals. They even have a shortage of  "grit". What is grit? Grit is fucking dirt with rocks in. That's all. No, seriously. Ireland doesn't have enough dirt and rocks. Navigating around the city in the snow is a very risky proposition indeed. The local news kept going on and on about how dangerous it was and would show this video of a dude wiping out while walking down a street in the city. Over and over they'd show him. Walk, walk, walk, slip! BLAMMO! And then they'd cut back to the studio and some concerned news anchor lady would say "Hope he's all right". Oh, I'm sure he's fine. He only bounced his skull off the stone sidewalk once.

The Wiff went back up to the front desk to basically beg to be let into our room and they finally allowed us in at around 1:45 pm. We gathered up our shit and headed up to the spacious and luxurious suite they had prepared for us. That would be sarcasm by they way. The Russel Court Hotel is in a Georgian-style building and in serious need of updating. I pressed the button to call the elevator and when the door finally opened we were greeted by the tiniest lift ever. It was so tiny that we couldn't fit both us and our bags inside (we each had one large suitcase and one small carry-on). The Wiff said she'd just walk up (suckah!) and even though our room was on the 3rd floor, she managed to beat the elevator (I think one of the hamsters used to raise the car died when I was halfway up or something). We get to our room and it's pathetic. There was a ratty, old love seat that converted into a sleeper (seriously), a shitty TV from the early 90's and a dumpy bed. Whatevs, I need a shower.

Guess what (chicken butt)? No hot water. That's right. None. Fuck me. The Wiff calls the front desk and there's no answer. She decides to go downstairs to ask about the hot water and the woman at the front desk says "Yea, we haven't had hot water since yesterday. The pipes are frozen and the water pressure is really low." Ok, great. We decide to "freshen up" somewhat with the I-cannot-stress-enough-just-how-fucking-ice-cold-it-is water and take a nap. About an hour into the nap the fire alarm goes off. Twice. Each time for about 15 seconds. There is no announcement as to whether it is a legitimate alarm or a test or whatever, just two alarms and then silence. So we chose to ignore them. Luckily, the hotel was not actually on fire. We napped until about 6 pm and then went downstairs to the grab some food at the hotel restaurant.

Because of the smoking ban (similar to that in the U.S.), there is no smoking inside buildings. The way that most large clubs and hotels with bars have gotten around this is to have a "beer garden". This is basically just a courtyard outside where people can smoke and drink. This is also where we had to go to order our food. It was about 27 degrees out there and the bartender we ordered from had a big Russian-style hat on. We ordered our food and a couple of Guinness (first ones of the trip) and went to find a place to sit down. The bartender had given us one of those pager things and since there really wasn't a place to sit in the club area (and there was no way I was going to wait outside in the beer garden) we made our way back to the lobby of the hotel itself. The music at this bar was a bizarre mix. It'd switch from Frank Sinatra to some crazy techno dance song to Elton John to The Cure and then an obscure reggae song. I don't know if it was just someone's iPod on shuffle or what but that's the impression I got. Plus, it was really frickin' loud. No one needs to hear "Sad Songs Say So Much" at maximum volume.

After about 20 minutes the pager had still not gone off and we figured that perhaps they had forgotten about us (the whole hotel gave us the impression that no one was in charge). So the Wiff bravely volunteered to go check on the situation. You may have gotten the impression by reading this entry that the Wiff is in charge of communication and organization. She is. If it were left up to me, we would have just continued to sit in the lobby complaining for the remainder of the evening. She came back a few minutes later with our food. Apparently the range on the pager things does not extend more than 15 feet. Blah, blah, blah we had our food and drink sitting in the lobby all by ourselves. Outside it continued to snow and the Irish people continued to not shovel it.

After dinner we both decided that we were still too spent to try to venture out on the town that night so we went back up to our room to watch TV (I personally love checking out TV in foreign countries. It rules). There was still no hot water. In fact there was no water coming out of the hot tap at all. The sink was one of those old school types with separate taps for cold and hot water. It's called a mixing valve people, look into it. We watched the national news and that's where we found out just how ill-equipped the entire country is to deal with snow. They don't get much snow in Ireland and usually the small amount they do get doesn't hang around for very long. However, this was turning out to be the coldest, wettest winter in a generation. That's me and my amazing timing.

Our hotel was on Harcourt St. and that's where a lot of the nightclubs are. I didn't know this (although it does mention it on the hotel's website...I guess I didn't check that). Starting at 11 pm there was a constant "thump thump thump" of dance music drilling its way into my skull. But I was still pretty tired from traveling and such so I was able to go to sleep. At 3:30 am the club let out and hundreds of very drunk people spilled out onto the snow covered streets. Right under our hotel window they all decided to have a snowball fight. And scream. And yell. I lived in Allston for a while and I thought dealing with drunk kids running up and down the street was bad. Holy shit was I wrong. The Allston drunks are pikers compared to these people. Did you know when white people get really drunk they yell "WHOOOOOOOOO-HOOO!!" a whole hell of a lot? I thought that was just an American drunk white guy thing but it appears to be more universal than I had imagined. I looked over at the Wiff and said "This is the worst hotel ever". I was not wrong.

After a good hour or so of drunken assholes screaming outside our not-inexpensive hotel room (did I mention that said hotel room had no hot water? 'cuz it totally didn't have any hot water), they finally dispersed. I'd like to say that they all left because the police (or Garda, pronounced "GAR-dee" or "use-less") told them all to fuck off and go home but that is untrue. I think they left because they were out there for so long they started to sober up in the cold. This would all repeat the next night except louder and longer (the above video is from the next night, Saturday. I didn't capture the largest part of the snowball fight because I was so furious that I could not get out of bed). 

On Saturday we did get a chance to walk around the city and check out the scene. Unfortunately I had what I can only describe as a panic attack during our outing (I think it was a panic attack anyway. I have no idea what the hell it was. I certainly was stressed). I started to not feel well and I got all sweaty (what's up ladies?). We decided to head back. About halfway back I started to feel better so we went into a pub called the Auld Dubliner in the Temple Bar area. It was one of those places that when you open the door, everyone turns to look at you. Luckily there was only 5 people in the place including the two bartenders. We found a couple of seats at the bar and ordered a couple of pints. That was the extent of our interaction with the bartenders. Usually the best place to sit is at the bar in my opinion because you can chat with the people around you and the bartenders themselves. Not so much here. We sat and drank our drinks all the while sort of amazed at how unwelcome we felt. When we finished one of the bartenders came over and I assumed that he'd offer us another but he just grabbed our glasses, never once making eye contact. We left.

We ended up at a much better pub called O'Donoghue's on Suffolk St. We had a late lunch and another pint since it was a nice mellow vibe there. That evening the snow started to really come down and blow around and since neither of us was hungry we did what we do best on a Saturday night: Stay in and watch bad TV. That night in addition to the late evening/early morning wake-up call from the drunk jerks in the street we were also treated to the fire alarm going off a couple of times. Thank god we were leaving the next day. And no, we never did get any hot water in Dublin. By Sunday morning we both were so cranky and irritable (neither one of us had had a nice relaxing shower since Thursday morning) that when one of the hotel staff asked us how our stay was, we just let him have it. He apologized up and down and even went so far as to try to find us a place to have a shower (he failed on that front) but it didn't matter. We were leaving Dublin and hoping that Kinsale would be better. We needed to salvage this vacation.

Next time: Kinsale and Galway. Will it be better? Will we be able to wash our junk? Will we get to sleep through the night? Will driving on the opposite side of the road totally freak me out? These questions and more will be answered! How exciting for you!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Only 8 More to Go

'Sup bitches? 2010 all up in yer grill. Woot WOOT! ... Sorry about all that. It sounded funny in my head. How's things? Oh right, I'm supposed to be telling y'all (hee! "y'all") how things are with me. That's kind of the whole point of this blog nonsense. Blogs are stupid. Why do I do this anyway? Oh yea, my ego.

Wanna hear how I spent New Year's Day? No? Then stop reading and go do something constructive with your life. Go on, shoo! Git! ... Are they gone? Good. On New Year's Eve we had my sis Mary and our friend Chris (a.k.a. CK43) over to eat chinese food and hang out, watch TV and (literally) ring in the new year. It was pretty mellow. On New Year's Day since sistah soul-jah stayed over-night, we all had a lovely breakfast that the Wiff made for us.  Fabulous. After Mary left, Oliver the cat made an appearance finally and all was well. Oliver is really not a friendly cat when it comes to visitors. He likes us OK, he tolerates us and will allow us to pet him occasionally. He's just super jumpy around everyone else. Dunno why exactly but I suspect it has to do with when we had the plumber guys in the house for 3 weeks replacing our heating system. We had all the cats corralled in the Wiff's office on the first floor and all the noise and strange people might have fucked him up.

So the bulk of the day passes with nothing out of the ordinary happening. I went upstairs to work on the design for the label we need for the beer we brewed (details forthcoming). Suddenly I hear this huge crash of what sounded like a bunch of plates hitting the floor (it sounded very much like when the piece of the ceiling fell down). I called out to see if the Wiff was OK but she didn't answer. Uh oh. I went to go downstairs and met a very scared Oliver coming racing up the stairs at full throttle. He tore past me and went immediately under our bed. I went downstairs and into the dining room to see the Wiff standing in front of the china cabinet with a couple of broken bowls on the floor in front of her. "You hurt?" I asked. "No, I don't know what happened. They just slipped. Oliver lost his mind though", she said. "Yea, we ran into each other," I said.

And that was it for awhile. We cleaned up and went back to whatever it was we were doing before the mini-drama. Later we had dinner, played a couple games on the Wii (which I totally lost by the way. The Wiff schooled me in Wii Frisbee golf). We had opened a bottle of wine to have with dinner so I had a couple of glasses. At about 11pm or so I noticed that Oliver had not come down since the incident. Now I know he's a big weenie and all but usually he'll get over his fear enough when his dinner time comes along. But he hadn't this time. Uh oh. I decided to go up and check on him. I went upstairs and turned on the light in the bedroom. There he was sitting on our bed, bleeding. Oh fuck! I picked him up (carefully) and took him into the bathroom where the lighting is better to see what I could see. First thing I noticed when I put him down (gently) was that he was favoring his left, rear leg. I looked at it and there was a nasty deep cut right at the heel of his left foot.

I called Amy up and we tried and failed to put a gauze bandage on it to stop the bleeding. When we realized that wasn't going to work she went to call the vet hospital in Woburn. Did I mention it was snowing? Yea, it was snowing a lot. It took about 35-40 minutes to get to the place and he didn't make a peep during the entire ride. Poor lil' dude. They showed us to an examination room and after a couple of minutes the doctor came in. She checked out his foot and noticed that one of his nails was also damaged (most likely in his mad scramble up the stairs). She said that he's going to need stitches but they could not do it right that moment. Um, ok...then when? She couldn't say exactly since there was a staff shortage with this being a holiday. Oh crud... forgot about that. The doctor said we could leave him there and come back in the morning or we could wait there but she couldn't say what time they'd be finished. Sigh. So yes, we stayed.

The Wiff and I went over to the waiting room and watched some TV (Iron Chef and then some Doctor Who episodes...honestly not much of it registered. I think the mystery ingredient was the Ood or something). I tried to take a nap on the Most Uncomfortable Couch in Existence. Seriously. I don't know who thought that it would be a good idea to have a 3-seat couch that has little humps in between each of the cushions. Try lying on that shit for a while, it blows. We opted to have Oliver wait with us in the TV room until they were ready to take care of him and around 2am (yes, 2 fucking AM) someone came in and off he went. They sewed him up and gave him some pain meds. The meds made him all loopy and sad and he had the dreaded cone of shame on over his head. We finally got out of there at around 4 in the goddamn morning. The snow was still coming down. That ride home sucked. Rt. 128 was almost completely covered in snow and I couldn't really see where the lanes were. We creeped along and made it back safely by 4:40 or so.

Now the poor little guy is isolated in one of the spare bedrooms and he keeps walking into stuff since the cone messes up his navigation. Here's the kicker: we're leaving for Ireland on Thursday so now we have to board him as well. It's just going to be Morticia left in the house (oh, and our friend Val too. She's going to house/cat sit for us). I feel bad for him but it was such a freak accident and there's really no other choice at this stage. He needs to have his meds every day for 14 days so off to the cat boarder he goes. At least Molly will be in the same facility, just not the same cage. I feel bad but not bad enough to cancel my trip. Fuck that shit.

And that was how 2010 started for us. Not so great but it really could have been much, much worse. The doctor said that he managed to cut the skin all the way down to the sheath that covers the tendon in his heel. Just a tiny bit more and it would have cut the sheath and perhaps the tendon itself. That would have been potentially crippling for him. He should recover completely in a couple of weeks. Right now I have to go and head over to the dentist to get my crown installed finally. Lay-tah!