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Chasing The American Dream

July 30, 2006


While I’m on the subject of Starbucks, Andy and I witnessed this little episode up while he drank his mocha frappuccino and I sipped my iced venti unsweetened iced coffee (loaded with seven sweet ‘n lows, cinnamon, and half-and-half).

A rather flustered Elton John-looking character came into the store and said to the Barista, “Can I have a tall straw, please?” The Barista handed him the straw, but Elton sort of looked at her strangely. He said to her, “No, I wanted the tall straw not the small one.” She replied, “Sir, in Starbucks that IS the tall straw. You should have asked for the venti straw.”

July 27, 2006

STARBUCKS ALTERS MUFFIN FORMULA (and other travel musings)

Has anyone noticed Starbucks has changed their recipe for low-fat muffins? Yeah, their muffins were actually very tasty despite being low-fat. Now, all the toppings are front-loaded into the muffin tops. Like, once you eat the top, if you can manage it, you’ll find nary a blueberry after that and are stuck with a clump of tasteless batter. Yuck. I guess they opted for a cheaper supplier. Boo, Starbucks!

One bad thing about red-eye flights is that most of the airport shops and restaurants are closed. I got lucky; this one Mexican restaurant/bar was open. I sat down at the bar, looked at the menu, and was all ready to order a blue corn quesadilla when the female bartender said to me, “I can only give you a drink sweetie; the kitchen’s closed.” Damn, now I had to go to Wendy’s if I was to eat dinner. I hadn’t stepped into a Wendy’s in over three years and nothing looked good to eat. So I ordered a large fry and a large Diet Coke. Perfect for my seefood diet where I have been eating junk food for the past two weeks. There were no available seats so I took my ‘dinner’ across to the nearly empty Mexican joint. I sat down and three fries later, a waitress (sorry, she doesn’t deserve to be called a server) came up to me and said, “Sir you can’t have that to-go cup in here.” I quickly told her that it was because her fine establishment refused to serve me food that I was forced to go elsewhere. She said, “Well technically, you can’t bring food in here either. It’s a health code violation.” I got up in the middle of her spiel ready to curse her out. I mean, it was 10 friggin p.m. and the place was empty. Who cares? You think there was a health inspector handy ready to pounce on me for my illegal fries? But I kept my cool and just walked out without saying anything. She was still spieling as I left.

These damn money-hungry airlines. Why else would you invent the dreaded middle seat? More revenue, of course. The middle seat is worthless thanks primarily to the mindless and thoughtless passengers on my left and right. The luxury of a window or aisle seat is that you have much more room. You can lean into the aisle or against the window and every little bit helps in those cramped planes. I always do the lean to spare the poor middle seat passenger. But people just don’t think. Aisles and windows constantly take both arm rests leaving the middle seat with no arms to rest. And jeez people, if you’re gonna sleep, please lean away from me. You’ve got the whole aisle or window to lean. Why cave me in further? The last flight I was on, the window guy was snoring in my ear, and the aisle guy was literally leaning on my right shoulder for support. Aren’t most airlines on the brink of bankruptcy anyway? What’s another 60 less middle seats? C’mon guys, lose the middles.

I could never be a pilot. I’d have to wear that ridiculous-looking hat. That black and white thing that looks like it was purchased at Disneyworld. Nope. Couldn’t do the hat. And why are they always walking around with the hats on? Is the terminal considered inside the ropes and thus, they have to wear the hats? Why not wear the hat only in the plane itself? Do football players wear their helmets in public or just on the playing field itself? I think the pilot hat needs to be reevaluated.

You ever notice there are never enough seats at the gate? Not nearly. If flights average 150-200 people, why have only 100 seats? And then you have those inconsiderate but lucky passengers who not only find a seat, but they put their carry-on bags etc. on that rare empty seat next to them. Uhhh, excuse me?

Whenever I lean toward having more kids someday, all it takes is a little trip through the airport to smack that thought clear out of my mind. The whole deal with the strollers, car seats, diaper bags, lugging that stuff around along with the kids, the crying on the plane trying to keep the kids quieted and comforted as 200 angry strangers look your way. And do you ever notice that the crying kids always fall asleep about 10 minutes before the plane lands? I’m not sure I could handle the stress. I mean, I can barely handle the stress of a tasteless low-fat blueberry muffin. Can you imagine?

I don’t think I’ve ever sat next to a pretty woman on a plane. I’m usually stuck with people like the inconsiderate pair I mentioned above. I don’t think I’d mind it so much if a pretty woman chose to sleep on me. Oh crap, there’s the announcement for my “zone.” "Boarding zone nine." Why can’t they say, “Boarding rows 10-15,” like they used to? What’s the difference anyway? They're boarding the plane the same exact way? Do they really think they're fooling us? Well, I’m in lucky seat number 11D. You guessed it. Middle.


July 24, 2006


"Women are capricious and blithe, even if they give off the impression that they're more serious. We constantly evaluate and re-evaluate and re-re-evaluate and change our minds as often as we change underwear."

Alternate titles considered for this post were:


I’ve been in a huge dating slump ever since CBG dumped me. And most recently, it has gotten worse. When I sit back and think about it, I come to realize that I’m not any closer to understanding women now then 2 ½ years ago when I became single once again. It seems when I’m never on the same wavelength. It’s like I’m coming and they’re going. I go left and they go right. I say tomato, they say tomahto.

Within the last oh, eight weeks or so, I’ve gone through the following new miserable experiences. We all know about Peach so let’s not rehash that. Post-Peach, I wrote about meeting some wonderful women online, having great conversations, sharing lots of interests, and then they disappear.

Then there was the whole model saga. This was a risk/reward situation in which I risked spending some money to fly her down with the possibility of something developing and her moving back to Miami. But again, I missed a signal somewhere because we were definitely not on the same wavelength. After spending far too much money on her, and getting very little appreciation from her, I found out she is just looking for a friend. Oh gee, isn’t that lovely?

Then came Argentina. We met online. She used to live here but now lives in Argentina, her homeland. She came to town and we went to dinner and had a great time. Poof. She disappeared.

Then I finally met someone local albeit online. She was seemingly perfect for me. Divorced with a young son. 29 years-old, very attractive, very sweet, and very genuine. Or so she appeared. We had an amazing chat which ended with her requesting me to send additional pictures of me and Andy in exchange for pictures of her and her son. Poof. She vanished. I sent her a follow-up email with no response. Two-weeks later, I finally saw her online and sent her an IM asking her what happened? She declined my message. Naturally, I sent her an email hoping for some sort of explanation, but of course, she ignored me.

Then came the latest fiasco. And let me say right here and now that I don’t necessarily blame any of these women. I really only have myself to blame for allowing these things to happen. OK. Lay on, McDuff. This latest woman I met a maybe a couple of weeks ago. She was from Phoenix so I said hello. We ended up having a nice chat. Once again, she seemed interested, but I never heard from her. Right before I came to Phoenix last week, I sent her an email telling her I was coming to town and asked her if she’d like to meet or chat. I never expected to hear from her. Well lo and behold; I had an email in my inbox when I arrived in Phoenix. And the latest adventure had begun.

She was single, 27, a Russian Jew, and very attractive by the looks of her picture. She had recently moved away from San Francisco and her family to pursue a real estate career. We had some nice conversations during the week usually when Andy was sleeping in the morning or late at night. I figured I wanted to meet her while I was there. The problem was that she had lots of family in town and I had no free time. So I had to make a risk/reward decision once again. Do I extend my stay in Phoenix just to meet a total stranger, perhaps meeting the woman of my dreams? Well, you me and yes, I made a last minute decision to extend my stay just to meet her. Here’s how THAT turned out.

We agreed to meet for dinner Wednesday night, the night I was supposed to leave for home. She trusted me enough to pick her up rather than meeting me somewhere. I felt really good about her. We really seemed to connect. I was really excited to see and meet her. But she called me around the time we were to meet and canceled. She said she couldn’t leave her family. Boy was I disappointed. I had bought her flowers, too. I don’t know why, but I respected and understand her decision. I knew how important her family was to her especially considering she had not seen them in a year or so. Her cousins were to leave Saturday afternoon at 3 so I made another ill-advised risk/reward decision. I volunteered to stay until Sunday just to meet her on Saturday night for a nice dinner and whatever else we decided to do from there. I figured once again that it was worth the risk and the cost to meet someone special. So we rescheduled for a Saturday night around 7 or 8.

Again, I greatly anticipated meeting her. We continued chatting and she seemed very excited and eager as was I. She even called me late Friday night around 1 a.m and told me to come out and meet her. Crazy me agreed but she reconsidered given the hour of the night and the fact that she was tired. Again, I understood that too. Then came the big day, Saturday.

I anticipated this nice long evening with her, a nice dinner where we could chat and get to know each other and figure out if there was something there. How nice would that be especially since I was/am considering moving back to Phoenix. Her Wednesday flowers weren’t looking so hot so I bought her new ones and made her a couple of CDs. Yeah, overkill but I wanted to make a good first impression and I really didn’t know when I’d ever see her again. She called around our appointed time, 7:30 or so. She said she had just woken up from a nap, tired from her family’s visit. She said it would take her two hours to get ready so she would call me later. The wind was beginning to leave my sails. She called around 9 and we talked. She said it was sort of late for dinner and that we could meet at a sports bar in an hour. What was I to say? If it had been a local thing, I probably would have told her, ‘thanks but no thanks,’ but hell, I’d stayed this long and I wanted to at least meet her after all this. At this juncture I had no wind left in my sails. I was really disappointed that our big night had been reduced to some lame meeting in a bar. But I went through with it.

She pulled up next to me in the parking lot and I got a quick glimpse of her. She resembled little from her picture. She had beautiful eyes and a nice face yes, but nothing like her picture. Plus, I’d guess that she had gained 50-75 pounds since the picture was taken. I cursed myself. We walked into this dive place and some annoying comedian was shouting vulgarities. We could hardly hear each other. We did have fun and had a nice conversation. There was chemistry there. We had a quick drink and decided to leave. Only we didn’t know where else to go given the late hour and I really didn’t know where else to go around there nor did she. So we agreed to meet late morning the next day so we could spend the day together before I left. We even spoke at 5:30 in the morning and confirmed it. 10:30 or 11. So I waited for her call.

She eventually called me at 11:20. She said she had to go to the gym with her dad who was also visiting her. Again, I understand her father made a special trip to see her. I didn’t expect to be chosen over her father anyway. So I waited again for her. We spoke after 2 and she asked me if 3 would be ok. I asked her if she could make it earlier, it would be better. So I waited. Then she called about going to Costco. Costco? That couldn't wait? I mean, I just figured after all I sacrificed for her, I might have priority over a Costco trip. But she made your choice and, like an idiot, I waited again. And I waited. And I heard nothing. No calls, no nothing. Perhaps if I was an asshole (and maybe I am), I would deserve this. But in my view, I did everything I could to stay here and try to get to know her. It cost me quite a bit to stay here and wait for her, yet she didn’t really appreciated my effort. This disturbing pattern of blowing me off totally disappointed me and hurt me. I just don't understand how someone could do that. She finally called me around 8 and I let it go to voicemail. She really didn’t’ explain why she hadn’t called and even told me she hoped we could continue whatever it was we were doing. I wrote her an email not to dissimilar to this post explaining my thoughts. And that was that.

And here I am really lost. I used to think I was a good judge of character. Now, I’m definitely doubting it. I also used to think that my risk/reward strategy was worth pain of disappointment. But this is getting old now. And it seems the more I give, the less I get. After Russia blew me off the first time, I had a chat with the scholarly
Olivia. I told her I didn’t get women. I said to her that women were always changing their minds on me, showing interest and then disappearing. One disaster after another. I told her I was truly lost. She then offered me her woman’s point of view, the result of which was the above quote that you read in the beginning of this post. How right she is. And how prophetic, too after all I went through these past two days. Mentally, I need a break from dating. I need to focus on writing my book. I need to find an ending chapter somehow. I have been hoping reality would help me finish it, but if I wait until my single situation gets resolved, the book may never get finished. But at least Olivia has given me the name for the next chapter I’m going to write. Yes indeed, Capricious and Blithe.

July 20, 2006


Posted by Picasa more pix in Flicker badge below

I lay (yes, l-a-y is correct. see table below) in bed staring at him this morning knowing it would be our last for a while. That’s when you know what they mean by heavy heart because you can actually feel it. A week has come and gone like a flash of lightning in an Arizona monsoon. Top 10 things I learned about Andy this week?

1 He keeps growing like a weed nearing five-feet now. He’s still skinny as a reed, however.
2 The kid’s got real talent as a basketball player.
3 I think he could also become a star tennis player and golfer. My only question is whether he’ll learn that playing sports involves contact and that kids can be rough.
4 For his age and size, he doesn’t eat much.
5 I’d say his favorite food right now is Chicken Fingers in Ranch Dressing
6 I think he’s getting used to the idea of me coming and going. Perhaps that comes with age. He was sad but didn’t cry when I left. I think that’s a good thing.
7 He’s very smart. Got straight A’s on his report card. His favorite subject is science and his least favorite is social studies.
8 He’s gonna need braces.
9 He’s totally into Star Wars now. Most of his birthday gifts were Star Wars-related.
10 He’s still a night owl like his mother and father. Getting him to sleep prior to midnight is impossible.

Definition- Present- Past- Past Participle- Present Participle
to lay- to put or place something down- lay(s)- laid- laid- laying
to lie- to rest or recline- lie(s)- lay- lain- lying

July 16, 2006


I told you way back when that the whole divorce process from cradle to grave sucks, no two ways about it. The worst part about it is that it can wound and even sever relationships. I’ve often thought about how many relationships I no longer have with people I once called family or friend. Why? Because divorce forces you to draw battle lines. It’s one side against the other and there are no holds barred. Yeah, it could be viewed as a boxing match because the fate of the outcome is in a judge’s hands. And that single judgment can and does change lives and relationships.

Despite what I would call a favorable ruling, the process left me scarred. It was bitter and ugly and negative and really no positives can be said here. Perhaps the number one question you guys ask me is, “How come you’re not in Phoenix closer to your son?” Well, I can’t capture the emotion here on paper, but the fact is, I haven’t been mentally ready to go back there. I definitely needed time and space to recover and figure out my life. For me, twelve months of divorce battle took its toll on me. In the beginning, I never really expected a battle, but it just turned out that way. OK, I’m trying to get to a point here, but you know me, it takes me a while.

Being here in Phoenix with Andy opens my mind up. I begin to see that it’s possible that I might come back here. Truth is, I’d really love to. But as explained, it’s been a hard recovery process. But what happened last night really made me realize just how badly these battle lines were drawn. For his birthday party, Andy chose to go see a baseball game with his best friends. Actually, the game idea came from the ex’s best friend who just so happened to testify in divorce court against me. And Andy’s best friends are her kids. Awkward situation because of the relationships formed by the battle lines. And it’s that awkward feeling I get when I’m here like I’m not wanted. I still feel out of place here as a result.

But last night, I took Andy and her kids to the ballgame, and we couldn’t have had a nicer time and the kids couldn’t have been any more well-behaved. It was fun having fatherly responsibilities again. That feeling of heightened awareness that you have when you have three kids you’re looking after in a crowd of 40,000 people. But what made me feel really good was knowing that they all had such a great time.

I dropped the kids off and she actually invited me into her house and we chatted a bit like friends, if there can be such a word after all that has transpired. The thing is, in any other given situation, I’m sure we could easily have been friends, but this is what divorce ultimately does to relationships. But I am happy for the progress that was made last night. I know it doesn’t and shouldn’t matter what the other side feels, but I know me. I need that comfortable state-of-being. I need more turning and healing of relationships so that I feel that comfort. I know I’m not quite ready yet, but it’s this positive turn of relationships like last night that gives me hope to someday return here.

July 15, 2006


It's people like Elizabeth that convince me that anytime I'm fortunate to have the opportunity to meet a fellow blogger/reader, to take advantage of such an opportunity. We met at Starbucks and got to chat about kids, writing, blogging, sports, and life in general. She's a single mom with a Hollywood producer-to-be 17-year-old son. She's as sweet as candy, super upbeat, and one of the nicest people on this planet. I wish her the best of luck in her hopefully budding relationship and her book in the making. Check out her blog, Plein Air Sketches if you get a chance.

July 13, 2006


Posted by Picasa

Happy birthday to the best boy who ever lived. I'm in Phoenix. More pix and stories to come.

July 12, 2006


I submitted this to the NY Times. Let's see if I finally get published...

Another fortnight from Wimbledon has come and gone. Aside from the actual championship matches, the hot topic of conversation was American Tennis. Or more specifically, what’s wrong with American Tennis. It was well documented this week that for the first time since 1911, there were no Americans, men or women, in the Wimbledon singles quarterfinals. The last remaining American was a virtual unknown from Washington D.C. named Shenay Perry. The very thought that she had the sole responsibility of carrying on The Streak made her game virtually disappear in a 6-2 6-0 loss to Elena Dementieva. Another trendy stat of note is that the last time there were no Americans in the quarterfinals of any grand slam event was the 1976 Australian Open. And our best, The Williams sisters and Andy Roddick appear to be on the decline.

I watched and listened to the experts’ theories from the rise of Russian women to the lack of heart and hustle of the men. John McEnroe was quoted as saying it was due to a lack of, “opportunity and availability and affordability." But I think all the experts have missed the obvious answer to the riddle. Let’s look at some history first before the mystery is solved. From 1994-1999, Pete Sampras was moping around the courts wracking up grand slam title after title. The more flamboyant Andre Agassi collected the career grand slam albeit oft-injured and sporadically during that time period. On the women’s side, there was an occasional Lindsey Davenport sighting. Steffi, Monica, and Martina Hingis were dominating the scene just prior to the Williams sisters’ breakthrough. So American tennis, on its own, was fairly boring and nothing really for American youngsters to get excited about. Aaah, but there WAS something brewing on the California coast.

Only it wasn’t tennis. Of all things, it was golf! A young 18-year-old kid named Eldrick Woods was just making a name for himself outside of the golf world. Oh sure, golf pundits knew the magic of this kid, but now word was getting out to the non-golf community. In 1994, he won his first of three straight U.S. Amateur titles. And as we all know, he turned pro in late 1996, won the Masters in 1997, and the rest is history. Tiger took the slow, stodgy, rich country club, Caucasian-dominated sport and turned it into THE cool sport of the new millennium. He did it with flair, panache, magic, and mental and physical brilliance. Being part African-American and part Thai revolutionized the sport for minorities. Kids watched and were amazed. Parents watched and suddenly wanted their kids to grow up like Tiger Woods. And so kids put down their tennis rackets and picked up their golf clubs. Golf was in; tennis was out.

And Tigermania grew and grew. In 2000, there was the Tiger Slam. He held all four majors. Tiger was, and is, IT. Except for a revitalized women’s tennis game thanks to the Williams sisters, I really believe the Tiger Factor is largely responsible for the lack of tennis development during the past ten years. Parents couldn’t wait to get a golf club in their kids’ hands. They all wanted the Next Tiger. Myself included. Look at women’s golf now. There are so many up-and-coming U.S. teenage stars like Michelle Wie, Paula Creamer, Morgan Pressel, and a slew of girls named Brittany who have all been very close to winning tournaments. Creamer had a break-out year last year wining over $1.5 million. The LPGA tour looks a lot different today than it did five years ago. The Natalie Gulbis look is in vogue now. And Michelle Wie is pulling a Tiger Woods. The 16-year-old is perhaps getting more press and worldwide coverage than did Tiger at that age. Yet another blow for tennis.

It’s all about golf, ladies and gentlemen. THAT is what’s wrong with American tennis. Tiger transcended his sport and sports in general. And tennis died a slow death and has yet to recover.

July 08, 2006


see more pix below in Flickr Badge

Part I (click here)

Nearing 2 o’clock, my first order of business was to find lunch. Olivia told me to try the Sarah Bernhardt Café. She gave me some general directions, but I think I got my banks mixed up and I couldn’t find the place. She later told me I was on the wrong side of the Seine. I had walked another 15 minutes from D’ Orsay and looked at the map. The Notre Dame looked close, just down the river. But I knew better. It was further than it looked and with my aching legs, I knew I’d have to wait until next trip to visit it. So I crossed the Seine; I took a good look down the river for Notre Dame but all I saw (I think) was a complex of buildings called the Sainte Chapelle sitting in the middle of the now split Seine. It was time to head back in the direction I came. Next stop. The Louvre.

I can’t imagine how long it must take to go through all the exhibits in the Louvre. I mean, I just walked outside the grounds and the area is huge. There are multiple squares and courtyards and buildings running parallel in between the grounds. It’s really huge. I meandered through the squares and plazas. I saw people inside the museum and wondered what great piece of art they were looking at. Outside, tourists and locals were baking in the hot sun (I’d later research the temperature to find it was 88 degrees and the normal temperature for July 1st was only 73). I was staring at some sort of glass pyramid structure with fountains surrounding it. There were tons of people around soaking up the sun, getting tan. My rest stops were becoming more frequent thanks to the rash. I sat for a spell and people watched and just relished in the fact that I was actually in Paris sitting just outside the Louvre.

I got up and walked through and continued my search for the Champs Elysees. I walked under an Arc du Triumphed u Carrousel which looked to be a mini version of the big Arc. I walked through a garden-type area known as the Jardin des Tuileries in seach of food and drink and hopefully, ice. I came upon an outdoor café but it was more like dinner food. I simply wanted a cold drink and a nice sandwich on French bread. I settled for a Coke Light. When I asked for a cup of ice, I got a strange look from the cashier who handed me a paper cup with about three ice cubes in it. Oh well. And ahhhh. Did that ever taste good. I found a nice chair under a shady tree. The chair was actually tilted back perfectly for relaxing. I took a picture of my view of a garden and a huge building in the background. I shut my eyes and awoke 30 minutes later.

Now 2:45, it was time to move along. I didn’t have to take too many steps before the pain in my leg returned and reminded me why I was having to stop so often. Next in line was the Place de la Concorde that I passed on my way to D’Orsay only now I was on the other bank. I took some more pictures of the Obelisque and continued on my search for the Champs. Here, I got a little lost. I ended up on some highly secured military-looking area with many French police around. Tourists were trying to take pictures of whatever it was and they were told not to by the blue-clad cops. I continued down the rue called Gabriel and all I could see were huge hedges with wrought-iron gates and lots of security around. I came to a dead end around Franklin Roosevelt Avenue of all things. A turn to my left found me right in the middle of the Champs Elysees. It had been on my left all along about a block over.

I got out into the middle of the street between traffic so I could get a nice picture. There in the far far distance was where I was headed. The Arc du Triumphe. I took another minute to imagine all the Tour de France riders finishing up the historic ride right here where I was standing. OK. Overheated again. I needed another rest, and I really needed something to eat. I had no idea what the Champs was all about but basically it’s a shopping district. Familiar French names such as Louis Vittone, Cartier, and Mont Blanc. There were movie theatres and outdoor cafes. But something caught my eye. Ice cream. Cold ice cream. It was Haagen Daaz but I didn’t care. I got my two scoops for something like 7 Euros or $9, and I sat down outside and just enjoyed my ice cold treat. More people watching. What a treat. It was a nice break. I got some croissants to go and headed for the Arc de Triumph Etoile which was still quite a ways away.

If you’re ever standing in front of the Arc de Triumph circle, please don’t do what I did. For in front of the Arc is a mad-cap traffic circle which resembles a grand prix race track. There appears no rhyme or reason as to who has the right of way. It’s a free for all and cars are everywhere, merging, converging. It’s the craziest thing I’ve ever seen. I looked around for a pedestrian crossing but didn’t see one. I also didn’t see a soul crossing in order to get to the Arc. I wondered how the hell you were supposed to get over there without getting killed. I thought perhaps the ‘entrance’ was in the back, blocked from my view. I waited and waited for a break in the traffic but to no avail. I decided to take on a slower moving tourist bus and some smaller cars as I sprinted across the circle waving my arms for them to slow down. I can’t imagine what the drivers or the people watching me thought of this fear factor move. Nevertheless, I made it. Not bad for a guy with a rash. The Arc itself was a magnificent structure built in the Napoleon era with hundreds if not thousands of French generals’ names etched into the surface. There was a neat look-out place at the top of the Arc that I wanted to go to. Aaah, it wasn’t free. I needed to buy a billet (ticket). Like the mythical pedestrian crosswalk, I couldn’t find the ticket booth so I took my pictures and decided to leave. That’s when I saw a bunch of people walking to and from an area near the far side. Well, I found the ticket line and I found the crosswalk. The ticket line was long as was the day so I didn’t feel like waiting. As I continued, there was an underground tunnel you were supposed to take to get across the street. No wonder. LOL, it was a lot safer to be sure.

It was time to head back to the Eiffel. There were three main roads according to the map and I headed down one of them. I got that lost feeling again as the buildings surrounded the road and I had no idea where Eiffel was. I saw a road sign that told me I had taken the outside road so I would need to take a right turn somewhere. Meanwhile I hadn’t rested since the ice cream and I was in really bad shape. Now the rash had spread to my left side. It was time for desperate measures. Luckily, I ran into another hypothecarie. The woman spoke a bit of English so I told her I needed some diaper rash cream for a baby. She pointed me to the baby products. Now all I had to do was read French to figure out which product to buy. No clue. I gave up. I didn’t want to risk putting cream on certain areas and having adverse results. Need I say more? I said merci to the woman who then asked me what was wrong with the baby. Uh, how do you explain diaper rash in French? I tried my best and she picked out a cream for me. I decided to take a chance and buy it.

I found a secluded spot and applied the cream. Yeah, in broad daylight. Can you believe this? Well let’s just say the results were not immediately felt. In fact, quite the opposite. That gentle baby cream was literally burning my ass off. I walked to the bank of the Seine and made my right turn, found a bench, and sat. It had been a long day. 4:30 and I’d overdone it as I had in NYC. I sat a good thirty minutes as the irritation subsided. Once again, three steps later, it was back. It seemed the only remedy for this was rest.

I saw the Eiffel and headed to my last stop, The Palais De Chaillot. The Palais offered another wonderful elevated view of Eiffel, so like a masochist, I decided to climb the stairs so I could take in the view. Before I took my climb, I noticed an amazing phenomena. There was a huge fountain display in front of the Palais. But the Parisians decided to turn it into a public swimming pool. People fully clothed were in the fountain pool cooling off from the 88 degree day. Guys in underwear, girls wearing panties and bras. Everything goes. It was like a day at the beach back home but here, I guess this was the only way to cool off. Quite a scene.

I climbed the stairs, took another rest, and snapped some final pictures. I ran into a couple from South Carolina who took my picture in exchange for theirs. I limped back down the stairs and headed across the Seine one last time. I marveled once again at Eiffel before heading home. I decided I’d walked enough. I looked at my Metro map and realized I could train it back to the station near the hotel. It was hot and I had to stand, but it beat the hell out of walking. It was a simple three-stop ride. I got off the train and walked down the stairs and there I was again. I was in the same exact spot I was in yesterday when I was completely lost. Only today, I knew exactly where I was going. I was confident; I’d walked miles trudging through this great city and I it felt great to know how to get to the hotel. What a difference a day makes.

I was done for the day. It was 5:30 and I was ready for rest. I stopped off at a Boulangerie and got some mini quiches to go with my croissants. Some more Coke Light at a local grocery and I was all set for the night. I made friends with the hotel clerk who told me she wanted to move to America. She was a doll; a real cutie. I behaved myself and told her to write me if she ever made it to the States.

The rest did me and my rash good. I ate my dinner and watched France beat Portugal in the World Cup. Pandemonium ensued. It was really crazy as I looked out my window and heard the cheers, roars, horns, and fireworks. The French were one win away from winning the Cup. How great for them. And how great for me to get the chance to visit Paris. I can’t wait to return and explore some more. Maybe next time I’ll utilize the Metro or taxi and save my legs. So I’m now an overseas traveler although if you look at my passport, there is no evidence of it. Paris security decided not to stamp me. That’s bothering me. Next time, I’m telling them to stamp me. I want the evidence to prove I’ve been to Paris. Evidence other than the rash I carry back with me. Insane, huh? Au Revoir.

July 03, 2006


more pix below in Flickr badge

I’ve only been to New York City once back in 1988 for a friend’s wedding. One day is a lot to cover and, of course, impossible. I remember taking my map and walking all the way from Central Park to Wall Street. I don’t know many miles that is, but my feet could tell you it was a few too many. Well, here I was in Paris and I didn’t really realize it, but I was about to do Famous City Walk, Part Deux.

My plans for an early start were squashed thanks to my exhausting route to Paris the previous night. I slept in and didn’t leave the hotel until around 10:15 a.m. Armed with my camera and my map and some sort of heat rash from all that sweating yesterday, I was ready to tackle Paris head on. Or maybe foot on. The first thing I noticed was the weather. It was a beautiful day but surprisingly hot once again. I’m guessing it was easily 28. That’s Celsius, and if I do the math, 9/5C +32, it’s around 82. I was already starting to perspire.

I got a hot tip from my blogging amie that I should stick to the Seine river and walk along the bank rather than trying to navigate the confusing Paris side streets. Mission number one was to find the Musee D’Orsay. Olivia told me the Louvre would be too much for one day and that D’Orsay might be better anyway. I knew how to get to Eiffel; after that, it would be uncharted waters. On the map, it didn’t look too far. But neither did Wall Street from Central Park.

Before I got to Eiffel, I was already in trouble. I’m not gonna gross you out, but let’s just say I had trouble walking with this rash. Oh my aching legs. I think I now know what babies feel like when they have a diaper rash. I came across a hypthecarie, a French drug store. I looked for some diaper rash cream or something in that vein. Yes, I already know I’m nuts; don’t rub it in. I found cream with a baby picture on it and the word toilette but had no clue what it was. The last thing in the world I needed was to rub it on and have it burn like hell. So I passed on the cream and traversed on.

Eiffel in the daytime. I was trying to figure out it’s color. The souvenirs you see around town are either gold or pewter color, but its hue to me has a slight reddish metal tint to it. I don’t know what it is that makes us stare at it but it’s almost uncontrollable. Wow, I’ve actually seen the Eiffel Tower in person. Cool.

Speaking of cool, I sought and ice cold Coke Light which I was learning was darn near impossible. Ice was out of the question. No one had any. And I’d see the Diet Cokes, err, Coke Lights sold in those refrigerator/cooler thingies, but they just weren’t cold. Barely above room temperature is all France could muster for me. I took a glance at my map since I was now in virgin territory. My goal was to get to D’Orsay quickly before the long lines formed. That meant no stopping for picture taking and gawking.

Ooh, but the architecture was spectacular, just as it had been in Gent. I gazed across the Seine and saw the Musee D’Art Moderne. I was about to take out my camera but stuck to my game plan. No pictures. I could always take some on my return walk. The Seine had a ton of tour boats today. I wish I had the time to take a nice cool sun-splashed ride. Perhaps next visit. I continued to drink to keep hydrated. Some lukewarm bottled water this time around.

The first landmark on my side of the Seine was the American Church. Aw hell, it was on my side so how could I not take a picture? I got my picture and carried on. I looked at my watch and it was already 11:15 a.m. It took me around 45 minutes to get to that church and it looked like it would take mere minutes on the map. I took a look at where D’Orsay was on the map and shook my head. I was in for a long day and that damn rash was not helping any. Luckily it was only on my right side so I adjusted my stride and walked in very wide, waddling steps. Can you imagine such a thing?

I put on the brakes once again when I glanced across the Left Bank and saw some amazing monuments. I consulted my map; The Grand Palais which contained the Palais De La Decourverte and the quote unquote Petite Palais. The Palaces were lined with these huge pillars topped with golden statues lining a bridge across the Seine. It’s hard to describe in words, but majestic comes to mind. I couldn’t pass up picture taking. In fact, my whole plan for picture taking went out the window at that point because there would be so much to see along the way. To my immediate right was the Hotel Des Invalides, a huge golden-domed structure that looked like a State Capitol building. Snap, snap, snap. Pictures were flying like there was no tomorrow. And there really wasn’t. I had to get all of this in today.

More history and architecture awaited me. On the Left Bank was something called Place De La Concorde which looked like a mini Washington Monument. On the Right Bank were these huge structures called the Ministere Des Affairs Etrangeres and the Assemblee Nationale Palais Bourbon. So huge that I had to walk across Pont De La Concorde bridge to get a good picture of the entire thing. I gazed at my watch and it was noon and getting hotter. I looked at the map and D’Orsay was next in line. So I waddled on wondering when I’d ever get there. I finally saw a sign with a right arrow and the words Musee D”Orsay. Thank god, I said out loud. About 10 minutes later, I saw tons of people and tour buses. I’d made it, and I was really excited in anticipation of seeing the Impressionism exhibits.

Ahhhh, cool air. What a relief to my face and aching legs and feet. It was fairly cheap to enter. 7 Euros or something like that. $9 or so maybe? I got a map, and I remember my Belgium reader telling me to go right to the Impressionism exhibits on the fifth floor. Oh my, heaven. Renoir, Degas, Manet, Cezanne, Monet, and my favorite Van Gogh. I was amazed at how well-preserved these paintings. Works of art over 100 years old. I wondered what these artists were thinking as they painted. They were all so young as most died early. Van Gogh, I know, was tortured. I don’t know the history of some of the others. I wished I had more time to explore and learn. I snapped a ton of pictures finally figuring out how to turn off my flash. The pastel rooms were eerily dark, further preserving the precious masterpieces that hung on the museum walls.

I took a break from the art and stepped outside the fifth floor balcony which offered a marvelous view of the Right Bank. I came back in to take a peek at post-impressionism and some Paul Gaugin. So much more to see. I needed more time but didn’t have any. D’ Orsay was magnifique. It was time to move on. There was much more of Paris I needed to see before the day was done…

July 01, 2006


Lost in Paris and the Eiffel at night. (more pix at Flickr badge below).

My co-worker and I went our separate ways from the Brussels train station. He was on his way to Madrid and I to Paris. The closer my train got to Paris, the more I thought about being alone. I mean, I’ve been in strange, new places plenty of times in the States. But the maps are in English and the people you ask for help speak English. In Belgium, my buddy could at least understand French so we got by. So this was really it. For the first time in my life, I was really on my own. A foreigner in a strange country. Reality sat in as the train slowed. The Paris Nord station would be my first test.

The Paris train station lines are long, un-air conditioned, and they don’t move very fast. 45 minutes passed before I got to the front. I showed the French woman my hotel address and she told me I was in the wrong line. I needed to be in the Metro line downstairs. Emphasis on stairs cuz there was no escalator to be found. That wasn’t good news because I was lugging around a 50-pound suitcase and two computer bags.

Talk about being lost. I took a look at the Metro train map and tried to figure out how to get to the hotel. I thought I had it figured it, but I didn’t want to take any chances so I waited in the information line. Another 45 minutes plus. I decided to call the hotel and ask them what train line to take. In broken English he told me to take number four and then transfer to some French town I couldn’t make out. “Excuse me, do you need help?” I turned around to find a very cute French girl. She knew exactly where I needed to go because she was taking the same train up until the transfer. She helped me buy the right ticket. I couldn’t thank her enough. I asked her her name but I couldn’t understand what she said. I also asked her if she wouldn’t mind walking together to the train. She didn’t mind. I had made my first friend.

After a monumental struggle to get my huge suitcase through the turnstile, what’s-her-name got us aboard. I immediately got two surprises. One, it was totally packed like a can of sardines. I guess those of you who traverse the NY subway know this feeling. There was not an ounce of breathing room to be had. Surprise number two was that it was not air conditioned. A total sweat box. It was hard to talk to my new friend as each stop, the train got more crowded. Five off, 10 on. I barely had room to grab a pole to hang onto. Another 45 minutes of torture. She was headed to Versailles and I to Cambronne. We said goodbye as we both chased our transfers.

OMG. I’ve never had to go up and down huge flights of stairs quite like that. I couldn’t roll my suitcase so I had to pick up that 50-pound load and lug it everywhere. By the time I found my #6 train, I was totally wiped. Luckily for me, I only had to wait three stops. Down another huge double flight of stairs and there I was, smack dab in the middle of Paris. I thought the hotel would be within eyesight but no such luck. I Looked for my street, Rue De La Croix Nivert, but no dice. I went back to the train station and showed the guy behind the window the hotel address. He pointed to his left.

So I went left. Still no sign of the hotel. I really really felt lost. I wanted to really succeed and be able to find the damn hotel. I decided to call the hotel again. I told the guy where I was standing and he told me where to go, but I had trouble understanding him. There were two streets to choose from. I think I remember him saying something about the middle so I chose the left one. I lugged the suitcase down the narrow sidewalk and I walked. And walked. A smile hit my face as I finally saw that I was on the right street. Now all I had to do was find the number, 46. I walked on and saw the number 63 across the street and cursed to myself realizing I must have walked right by the hotel. Back I trekked until I finally found it. I thanked the clerk for helping me, and I was on my way to my room on the second floor. I took the elevator or lift as they say here. That thing was barely big enough for me and my suitcase. I tumbled out of it and found my room and nearly collapsed on the bed. 10:30 p.m. Time for sleep right? Not if I wanted to see all I came to see in my short stay. So I splashed some water on my face, changed my shirt and headed out to the City of Lights. Just me and my map.

I was headed for the Eiffel Tower. I figured it would be easy to spot, but not so much. Buildings lined both sides of the streets and blocked off any view of the tower. I followed my map and enjoyed the adventure of being alone, discovering strange new worlds. A space between the buildings allowed my first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower. Big smile. What a cool thing to see. Another 15 minutes and there it was. It looked bigger in person. Almost ominous in its presence. I started snapping pix left and right like a typical tourist. I decided to take the elevator car up the tower to get the full experience. It was spectacular. Truly. And the adventurous ride down contributed as we got stuck and stopped abruptly amid screams from the car. We hung, suspended by cables, a thousand feet in the air, for 10 minutes that seemed more like 10 hours. We finally started moving, up not down. Back to the platform. Another five minutes and then we had a smooth ride down complete with a standing ovation once we made it.

I was glad that I made the effort, and I finally felt at home, somewhat initiated. It amazed me on my walk back that people were still milling about, having their drinks, and eating full course dinners. What a city! I got back to the hotel at 1:30 a.m. Big exploring day ahead. More stories and pix to come.