Paris, Part 2: Trains, planes, and taxis

Time starts to lose all meaning when you fly overseas, because unless you’re going to the South Pole, the time zones blur and send you way forward in time (or backward, equally weird).

Compounding things: driving to the airport means two hours, plus three hours early for international flights, so tack on five hours to that twelve-hour flight. We took off in the afternoon, so by the time it was wheels down in Amsterdam to switch planes, it’d been 24 hours without sleep.

And in Amsterdam, the line for customs was INSANE. It stretched for kilometers, since miles don’t exist here, and got so long that the airport police freaked out. I kid you not. They all showed up, took a look at the line stretching to Denmark, and did some kind of Dutch magic on the bureaucracy to make the customs line absolutely fly. I still don’t know how they did it.

The Air France flight to Paris was not screwing around, with a male flight attendant happily arguing with passengers about proper masks. No cloth masks, only blue surgical ones, and they handed them out if you only had cloth.

I sat next to a television journalist from Paris on the flight, a man who’d covered wars in Africa and the Middle East, and it’s always wonderful to talk to somebody from the news world.

Trains are wonderful, except when they are not

The train from Charles de Gaulle to Paris started out fine. With every stop, more and more passengers got on until the thing was insanely crowded. All the travelers from the airport with giant suitcases started getting stink eye from commuters simply trying to get to work.

We formed rival gangs, and since The Jets felt natural for the airport people, locals went with The Sharks, and we had a dance-off with switchblades, except nobody got cut because they were too busy singing.

Once in Paris proper, it took another train to get close to our hotel, up by Mount Marche, then a hike because we were too groggy and sleep-deprived to figure out which third train to take for the station right next to our hotel.

It does not take long, when dragging your luggage after 36 hours or whatever of travel, to learn you don’t want to haul that luggage another mile or two. We grabbed a taxi. Best decision ever.

TL;DR – When you arrive with the luggage, get a damned taxi, even though trains are great. Kthxbai.

Nothing is better than dinner outside on a busy Paris street

There’s something magical and unique about eating at an outside table and watching street life in Paris.

It never gets old, no matter how many times I’ve done it.

We were absolutely sleep-deprived, and common sense said to unpack and sleep. Nope. Having a good meal, outside, put a capstone on the Getting to Paris part of the trip.

I believe this should be the law. You can’t crash at the hotel right off. Getting a good dinner, or even a snack, along with a drink–that is required.

Next post: I hear there’s some art in this town

Paris, Part 1: Let’s fix the annoyances of air travel and make it joyous again

Day 1 of any trip overseas involves waiting in lines, taking your shoes off, and strapping yourself inside a metal tube full of explosive liquids.

Note: yes, you could technically go all Young Bruce Wayne and trade coats with a homeless person before sneaking aboard a cargo ship, and yes, there are people who’ve rowed across the Atlantic, but we are talking about getting to Paris before 2028.

So how can we fix airports and flying?

Here are a few ideas.

Idea # 1: Trains, trains, trains

Nobody likes driving to the airport at oh-dark-thirty, paying for parking, and taking a shuttle to the actual airport. How could we make this suck slightly less?

Trains.

Take your luggage and hop on a train that takes you directly to the airport.

Boom, no driving, no parking, no hassle.

SeaTac does have a train to the airport now. Though I live in a one stoplight logging town far away, it would be seven separate flavors of awesomesauce to catch a ride to Olympia, hop on that train, and hit the airport.

Sorry, parking lot barons. You provide a useful service, but trains would eliminate a major annoyance.

Idea # 2: Make boarding less silly

Right now, how do you get on the plane? IT IS THE CHAOS.

Let’s make this infinitely smoother by boarding window seats first, back to front. You go, Window Warriors.

Next up, middle seats.

Last to board should be aisle seats and first class / VIP people. Having them get on first slows things down. What’s the great thing about getting on first and waiting longer for takeoff? Feed the people holding special expensive tickets some special and expensive champagne while they wait and get them on last.

Idea # 3: Seats that fit

We have the numbers: average number of people who are tall, short, whatever.

Make seats on planes reflect real people instead of a mythical average, so anybody over six foot doesn’t have their knees shoved into the seat in front of them and average to shorter people get a break on price for taking up less space. But if we’re making prices reflect reality, average it all out to cost the same as now instead of overcharging tall folks.

Idea # 4: The adorable screaming bebes

Hey, I’m a father, and I get it. You want your pookie to see the world, or visit grandma.

HOWEVER: Itty bitty babies and toddlers don’t do well on long international flights, and by don’t mean well I actually mean a 10-hour flight often includes a free 10-hour chorus of screaming and inconsolable babies.

Babies and toddlers won’t remember a trip to Paris or Tokyo.

Multiply the age of the pookie by TWO and that’s how many hours the kid should fly. A baby can do two hours, a two-year-old can handle four, and so on.

Idea # 5: The Kiosk of Dumb Questions

At the Brussels train station, helpful staff stood at a kiosk to guide confused travelers to their train.

Airports around the world should do this. Otherwise, sleepy passengers wander the airport, staring at screens and asking random people questions in languages they don’t speak.

VERDICT

Traveling by plane is more annoying than it should be, but we can dream. What would you do, if you could wave a magic wand and fix it?

A short list of magical items for sale

Listen: just like you, I have boxes in my basement that haven’t been opened for years. Stuff taking up space and time, and if you let it, all that junk will play some Marvin Gaye and start multiplying until you can’t walk down the hallway without tripping on a violin from 5th grade.

So I have things to hock, and I am a motivated seller.

Vorpal Typewriter of Infinite Weight

It’s an Underwood from around 1930 that used to live in my office in a mini-shrine to word machines of all kinds. Like a relic.

The keys no longer work. The ink is dry.

That doesn’t matter, because what you do is place a blank piece of 8.5 x 11 paper on top of the Vorpal Typewriter of Infinite Weight, cut your thumb as a blood sacrifice on the keys, and words begin to appear as long as your blood is O-positive.

The typewriter has specific tastes.

It isn’t portable, unless you have a F350 with the extra tow package, because at the heart of the typewriter is a miniature black hole, pulsating with power.

Thor once lost his hammer, Mjölnir, which nobody can pronounce, and he tried to pick up the Vorpal Typewriter as a temporary replacement, but he couldn’t lift the thing.

Today, the typewriter lurks in the basement and to plot its revenge. It will not be ignored, though it will serve as a boat anchor if necessary.

Price: $50 or a pint of O-positive blood.

Matched Pair of Professional Bongo Drums

Admit it: you’ve always wanted to play the bongos. Real ones, not those cute little drums they sell at tourist traps for thirty bucks. Those are toys, and you are not a child.

These are four-foot-tall monsters. If you have musical talent and technical expertise with amplifiers and such–as you should if considering playing professional bongo drums–you could hook these things up to speakers and shatter windows in a three-block radius.

Metal bands are old and busted. The new hotness is heavy ska, and you can’t do that with a traditional drum kit. You need ginormous professional bongos, my friend. YOU NEED THEM.

Price: $100 or a working manual transmission Yugo.

Note: technically, these are conga drums, but technically, I don’t care.

Ginormous and Powerful Nikon D3100

It hurts me to say this: full-frame digital cameras with mirrors and such are too big and bulky. They’re great, and take wonderful photos. I just hate lugging them around when there’s a slim little device in my pocket at all times that takes pretty damn good photos that automatically upload into the cloud and such.

This Nikon is amazing. It’ll do your taxes and turn a random man in a mustache into Tom Freaking Selleck.

But, my old beautiful camera, you are too large and bulky. It’s not you. It’s me. I found somebody far lighter, huggable, and modern, a Sony A6000, and we are planning to stay together forever and ever.

Price: You can’t put a price on memories.

Update: SOLD.

Portable Typewriter that Actually Types Boring Words

This isn’t an heavy and adorable antique. No, this typewriter is portable, comes with its own carrying case, and actually works.

You need ink and paper and quick fingers to make words on this machine, doing the job it was designed and built for back in the 1960s, despite it being the 2020s. The portable typewriter abides.

Kinda boring, really. I like you and all, Portable Typewriter, but you’re too competent and normal to be interesting. Give us some drama. Grow little mechanical legs and scurry around the garage preying on mice or something.

Price: Whatever, have fun typing away.

Starplus Command Module

This relic has strange wires and indecipherable buttons. My current theories are (a) Strategic Air Command used it the ’70s to launch nuclear bombers, or (b) alien visitors with a hankering for antique human tech used this to let their starship commander call down to engineering and such. “Bring us back to that delicious Waffle House, warp seven!” Hell if I know.

Price: $5, unless you know how to work it to launch nuclear bombers or summon alien ships.

White Monolith of +10 Paper Consumption

This beast has a huge internal stomach meant to hold paper and a thin maw where it feeds. There are no teeth, so I believe it ate pages whole and had a method of digesting them. It has a tail that ends in a wide head packed with tiny metal teeth, like a snake.

The control buttons include a lightning bolt to summon Thor, a down elevator, and a smiley face without eyes, which is creepy. There’s also a symbol of power–and upside triangle inside a circle–and an emergency rhombus button, to bring forth the helpful rhombus fairies.

Price: A cheap bottle of bourbon or an expensive bottle of gin, which I will use to trade for a medium-priced bottle of bourbon.

Writing, COVID, working from home, and how well this whiskey pairs with coffee

Photo by Nic McPhee

Listen: I have hardly posted a thing because the zombie COVID pandemic was the crazy, and working from home is both hard and easy, in that it’s easy to work harder and write far more speeches and such when you are in your pajamas at midnight and not wasting two hours a day on the highway.

So here are some thoughts.

Myth: Writers and editors are solitary creatures.

writing cat, writers, writing, why is writing so hard, writer's block

Reality: Many wordsmiths may be introverts, or extroverts, or whatever. But working with words does not make you anti-social. Not at all. I know people who bang on the keyboard for monies in a variety of ways–reporters, speechwriters, novelists, screenwriters, editors–and 5.6 metric tons of them are some of the most charming and social people I know.

The truth is, WRITING is the solitary part.

You need peace and quiet to do the creative bit, even if you work in a social setting like me with people everywhere. A ton of folks need to close the door, put on headphones, and go.

I can’t close the door and get solitude at work 99 percent of the time, so I’ve learned to tune out the rest of the world and bang on the keyboard faster than light, going back in time to before sound was invented, then returning to the social world when the draft is done.

Writers are different, and there are other folks who like doing amazing first drafts that take a lot longer. My belief is editing and polishing is a lot easier, and you can do a lot more editing and such with people around and noise. Yet that creative part, the hardest and most fun bit, usually takes some intense focus and solitude.

Myth: Working from home will (a) disappear along with COVID or (b) is the future for all possible workers forever and ever

woman using a laptop
Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

Reality: There are some jobs that have to be done in person. Though I actually kinda believe (b) is true–though only for the workers with the leverage to fight and keep it. Folks were just as productive as when they drove into the office.

A ton of companies and organizations are probably feeling completely befuddled about this now. Maybe they’re jumping up and down that they don’t have to pay massive amounts of cash to rent office space, or freaked out because they aren’t renting and just built a giant building that’s empty.

Middle managers are likely losing their minds because they’re designed to operate in person.

I think this will be good for the workplace, especially people with kids and dogs and long commutes. Pretty good bet that a lot of workers who can Grab a Laptop and Do the Job Anywhere may want to come into the office one day a week for all those in-person meetings.

How well this whiskey pairs with coffee

It’s technically a whiskey creamer, and I am technically on vacation, as is my sister-in-law down here visiting. So we we are trying all these itty bitty bottles of different whiskey creamers in our morning coffee. YOU SHOULD DO THIS, but only on vacation or weekends because if you drive hammered you get wrecked, that is my PSA, kthxbai.

Today’s little bottle is: Sheelin White Chocolate Country Creamer, a product of Ireland, rated a 93 by the Beverage Tasting Institute and silver medal winner at the San Francisco Spirits Competition, where it excelled in the high jump.

Sheelin White Chocolate 750ml

Is it good? No.

It is great, and you ask yourself is there any alcohol in this at all, and you wonder why everything is second-person now, like it’s a bad detective novel, until you look at the tiny print on the tiny bottle to realize this adorable bit of cream and white chocolate is not kidding, and does contain whiskey, and is 28 proof.

Verdict: 11/10, would drink again.

Okay, this video is clever and hilarious–well played, well played

As I’ve been married for FIVE BILLION YEARS, and have never used this thing people call “dating apps,” which sounds like an appetizer made from dates and possibly wrapped in bacon, I am unfamiliar with the Tinders and the Matches and the Bumblebees and such.

What I do know is that this new ad for Match is brilliant.

Here, watch it, then we’ll talk smack.

Okay, that’s perfect, right? The actors, the meet-cute scene, the montage. ALL OF IT.

What’s especially great to me is Ryan Reynolds was involved, and whatever he touches is inevitably funny, along with Taylor Swift letting him use Love Story, her best song, always will be, and no, I have ignored most of her pop songs and actually like the country stuff better, and the new indie piano album, understated, under-rated.

Taylor, you keep innovating instead of pumping out the same songs and albums for 40 years. No, I am not looking at you, AC/DC.

Okay, these dudes have a point.

Also: I would listen to the entire DOG ON THE ROAD parody album. Make it happen. Send me the link and I will send you monies to Australia via horses, dolphins, and finally drop bears wearing cute little ’80s fanny packs, Chris-Pine style, and yes, you want to see the full footage instead of three seconds of a teaser, here you go.

Note: I hope you are all surviving 2020, and I wish you all the best during the last few weeks of the Worst Year Ever–and my promise to you is that 2021 will be far, far better.

Exploding Whale cray-cray–watch glorious remastered 4k footage on 50th anniversary of historic event

Now, weird news has happened forever. We just didn’t have CNN, fark.com and Wonkette around to shoot video, take notes, and tell us about when Billy Bob the Caveman drank that fermented berry juice and tried to kill a sabre-toothed tiger with a spoon. Pour one out for Billy Bob.

Florida Man has always been when us, even before there was a Florida.

HOWEVER: Perhaps the greatest local news video of all time, when it comes to weird news, is the Exploding Whale.

I’ve written about this before. The reporter who covered the story wrote an entire book after the event.

All we could see, though, was grainy footage. Clear enough to witness the cray-cray, just not up to our standards.

Today, however, for the first time, we can view the build-up and the carnage in glorious high-definition, because the reporter found the original footage on this stuff called “film” and technical geniuses turned that film into digital goodness.

Here, watch and share, and raise your glass to celebrate the 50th anniversary of what I believe should be a national holiday: The Day the Whale Exploded.

I come to praise Florida Man, not to bury him

Usually, a headline beginning with the words “Florida Man” will end with mayhem. You know, “Florida Man goes on three-day meth spree, robs 7-Eleven with Klingon sword”–that sort of thing.

I do not come to bury Florida Man.

Not today.

I come to praise him.

Because we have a feel-good Florida Man story, one so pure and joyous that THERE ARE NO WORDS.

As in, this video has no words. Our hero, Florida Man, doesn’t say a thing.

Check it out.

The ingredients to this warm, soft, viral news cookie are pure and delightful.

Our hero is a janitor with an impeccable goatee who’s good on camera.

His invention is something any of us could do, right now, by telling the Dog “you wanna go for a ride?” It wouldn’t take twenty minutes to hop in our large metal horses, which sleep and sleep unless the Dog sees me using my Pale Wizard magic to wake them, and take us places Very Fast, then buy a bucket and leaf blower.

And sure, you could even improve on this invention with a cushion inside the bucket, and maybe some bolts and duct tape to hold the umbrella. Except we didn’t think of the simple idea in the first place, right?

This man looked at the bucket he used every day, and the leaf blower, and he got those suckers married to an umbrella.

My favorite parts of this are (a) how he steers by wiggling, and moving the umbrella slightly, and (b) the speed this Blue Collar Limousine can go. It would have been funny if it moved at all, or went walking speed. Nope. This sucker flies.

Florida Man, we salute you, and look forward to seeing what you can do with a weed trimmer, handcart, and a box of garden staples.

KILLER SURFING SNAILS is the science video we need in the hellscape of 2020

Documentaries can be amazing, or put the B in Boring–it all depends. Kinda like straight-to-streaming movies. YOU NEVER KNOW.

This, now, is completely educational while being insanely good and hilarious. I could not love it more. Seriously.

Take a look, then we’ll talk snail smack.

What’s so good about this?

The best thing is how the narrator doesn’t skimp on the science. At all.

It’s easy to do a Honey Badger video, where you go all SNL skit and continue to riff on the same joke. Still funny. Just not a ton of science there. We learned that honey badgers are tough, resistant to cobra venom, and willing to take on anything. A classic video, but that’s pretty much it.

This killer snail video, now, crams in tons of science. An amazing amount. The full Latin names of species, the specific names of weird snail body parts, the chemicals involved in digestion and such. It’s crazy.

You truly learn about tons of different species of snails, and in a way that would help you remember those details on that BIO 245 test. If I had to study for that thing, I’d be watching and rewatching this video at 3:30 a.m. in a dorm room instead of staring at the same pages of a textbook trying to memorize the differences between all these snails.

The real trick is how skilled the narrator is at interweaving joke after joke–unique ones, not the same solitary riff–in clever ways.

He never stops informing you, and entertaining you. Which is an incredibly hard thing to pull off.

Also, it’s shocking how violent and crazy these snails are, and how they’ve developed all these different methods of surfing and preying on things. Did you ever think of snails as being secretly badass? I never did. Thought they were slow little vegetarians. NOPE.

VERDICT

I’ve always loved the True Facts series, and this one is an unlikely treasure, a total gem.

Please keep making these. It’s a public service to get us stoked about science, which kinda matters if we want to (a) survive the covid zombie apocalypse, then (b) beat climate warming without (c) giving up and building WATERWORLD-style sailboats like Kevin Costner.

Australian couple deals with infestation of death adders–and no, this isn’t a Harry Potter movie

We’re talking snakes. One of the deadliest snakes on the planet, the death adder.

Thus the name. These snakes aren’t sneaky and trying to bamboozle anybody. I appreciate that. A manipulative snake might try to tell you, “Hey, I’m just your friendly neighborhood legless reptile, using my pointed eating instruments and anti-pest chemicals to rid your home and yard of rodents. That bucket over in the corner is if you want to contribute to the cause, but only if you’re happy with my services. Good day to you and the family!”

This snake is honest. “Hello there, good sir, I’m a death adder. Don’t want to bite you, but if I did, yes, you would die within six hours. Quite sorry about that.”

And for some reason, all the death adders for miles keep showing up in this poor couple’s house in Cape York, which is like Cape Fear, except no Robert DeNiro, and it’s on a different continent, and I don’t remember deadly snakes in that movie.

The story says they haven’t had a handful of these snakes show up, which would be plenty. Twenty of these snakes have slithered into their home, which is some kind of Australian ranch in the middle of the bush.

That’s crazy. A normal human being would pack up and drive away.

However, this is Australia, which is another planet, except Elon Musk hasn’t sent rockets to it yet.

This couple is pretty cool with it. The snakes aren’t aggressive–the couple describes them as docile–their dog is really got at sniffing them out, and they’ve got a system of scooting them into a bag with a broomstick and such.

They don’t kill the snakes. I kid you not. These folks drive them far away, let them back out into the wild, and wish them well, when normal humans would do the opposite and go all ALIENS 2.

The final detail that slayed me was experts quoted in the story, trying to figure out why the death adders were showing up.

Apparently, the population of these snakes is recovering, and maybe booming, after they went on a cane-toad binge. See, the cane toads are poisonous, and the poisonous snakes biting and eating them would later die of the toad poison. Which is karmic payback, if you think about it. The scientist think surviving death adders figured it out. Maybe mother and father death adders started reading their baby sneks new bedtime stories, like the book, “An Afternoon Tea with Cane Toads–Our Non-Tasty, Poisonous Cousins.”

Oregon Man gives Florida Man serious competition by pulling Nerf crossbow on cops

Yeah, that’s not a typo. This real criminal genius thought it was a good idea to bring a Nerf toy to a gunfight.

And yes, police say he first pulled out a tire iron, then a small ax. However, what criminal in good standing thinks the natural progression goes like this?

“First, Imma snag this improvised, short-range weapon meant to loosen lug nuts. Then I’m going even shorter range with a hatchet. And now, for the grand finale, we’re doing full shock-and-awe on the po-po by whipping out this Nerf crossbow. They’ll never take me alive, Cletus–never.”

According to the KOMO story, based on police reports, the whole thing started with this man road-raging and/or stalking two teenage girls in an SUV while he was driving his pickup. Five bucks says that pickup features at least two of the following: (a) various shades of bondo, (b) Bud Light cans littering the bed, (c) a MAGA sticker, and maybe (d) one of those chrome pipes so this tough guy can roll coal.

The girls called 911 and the cops found both vehicles. Any criminal with working brain cells, at this point, would find another place to be or another illegal scheme to pursue. You know, drive off to cook some meth, rob a 7-Eleven while dressed as a trailer-park ninja (this has happened, numerous times), or tie a chain around an ATM and try to yank it out with your pickup truck.

This man didn’t stop. He drove on the wrong side of the road, rammed police cars, went through a chainlink fence. You know, all the things. Only then did he cap this string of Good Decisions by seeing armed police closing in and reaching for that Nerf crossbow.

My only journalistic question is this: What KIND of Nerf crossbow? For they are legion.

The only way to put a cherry on top of this story is to find out that last detail, and to pray to Florida Man that the specific brand of Nerf crossbow turns out to be this one.