Wednesday 22 December 2010

The joys of travel

I’ve just finished a rather epic amount of business related travel (well epic for me at any rate) where I clocked up about fifty thousand km of flying over about 11 weeks – two US trips, about a half dozen hops over to The Netherlands and a couple of other hops to Spain and the UK. All while trying to finish up a major project that required me to spend a lot of time writing, editing and learning a bunch of new technical content for a course that I was developing.

For those of you travelling I have a couple of tips. Schipol Airport in Amsterdam is the best Airport I’ve found to get delayed in – lots of things to do when you’re trapped, plenty of places to crash for extended periods of time in reasonable comfort and some half decent places to eat even when you are stuck in the Departure\transit areas. Bristol Airport (Airfield would be a better description) is a shithole. Madrid’s alright, Austin is pretty good. In Newark you can keep yourself entertained by exiting the departure gate area and coming back in through the TSA security checks as often as you like. It’s amazing how the rules change every time you try this; take your boots off\don’t take your boots off, unpack your laptop or don’t, Is that an Umbrella!!!!. The best fun can be had by repeatedly going through with a bottle of water carefully stashed in your back pack. They love finding them, it brightens up their day and when you get the same screener for the second time in an hour they start to think you’re really a TSA plant who just might be carrying something else that is designed to test their success rate. Hey what can I say when you have a six hour stop over you have to be creative about your entertainment.

I was hoping to find that they would have the new back scatter X-Ray scanners in the US but was disappointed however they just introduced the new back scatter type scanners  in Schipol at the start of December so I got to play with them on my last flight back. Now you are absolutely not allowed to remove your shoes in Schipol, presumably the fancy new machines are certified for all types of footwear. The best bit about the Schipol implementation though is that the displays are on the outside of the machine so once you come through you can grab a nearby seat and watch low res security porn along with the screeners. For the conscientious objectors amongst you I couldn’t figure out if there was any option but to go through the scanner although I can’t say for sure as nobody made an issue about it on my flight.

Thankfully nearly all airlines have now decided that “Flight Mode” on phones actually means something useful but for some reason European airlines still refuse to let you enable phones “until the cabin doors have opened” while in the US it’s OK to turn them on as soon as the tyres hit the ground. In any case it’s an improvement on the recent past when the flight attendants on some airlines (Lufthansa, I’m looking at you) would threaten to turf you off the plane if your electronics weren’t fully powered for the entire time you were on board.

Texas was a laugh. They do food very well for the most part and my personal favourite was a place called Rudy’s that specializes in  Texas BBQ. Rudy’s is a Gas station\BBQ restaurant combination – sort of an up market truck stop. The various options for giving yourself liver poisoning by overdosing on barbecued meat were superb though. This sign on a one of the outbuildings sums it up quite well – and captures my Texas experience perfectly.

Real-People-Eat-Meat

I was staying in a pretty basic residence style hotel in Round Rock that had no real restaurant and no bar. Next door was a delightful little eatery called “Joe’s Crab Shack”, part of a chain that’s pretty popular in Texas apparently. Anyway they served food (which was alright but the hefty portions more than made up for my quibbles about the style of preparation) and Joe’s had a Bar which I took as a sign that I should give them some business. It was good fun with plenty of Beer options and a wide range of other stuff including the delightful blue drink they call a SharkBite which comes in a Mason Jar and probably includes insurance cover for getting your stomach pumped later. The highlight of that trip was a conversation I had with “Hi I’m Tabitha and I’m going to be your server this evening”. To be fair to Tabitha she was very friendly and efficient, the beer was kept coming at the rate required and her desert suggestion was superb. However about half way through my meal she sat down opposite me, having noticed that I was reading a book (on my own travelling you see, so I read a lot) and came out with a line that was almost the funniest thing ever. Thankfully she didn’t quite get the quote 100% correct or I would have been unable to avoid collapsing in a heap on the floor, she was just genuinely curious about what anyone would be reading while out for some food. Anyway she sat down and said “What ya’ll readin’?” – At that point in time all I could think of was this bit of Bill Hicks comedy gold, coincidently recorded at gig in Austin.

 

 

I was so entertained that I doubled her tip. In hindsight I suspect she might even have been a Bill Hicks fan and planned that all along.