Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Happy Fasching from Munich

28 February 2006

Well, it’s come and gone by now. It’s about 1030pm now in Munich and they are just finishing cleaning up the streets of those who have fallen in the battle of the drunk and oblivious here after Fasching. When the street sweepers get to all the confetti is another story! The Marienplatz is about ankle-deep in confetti at this point. For those who have never heard of it, it is only the biggest party since Karnival in Rio and Cologne and Marti Gras in New Orleans. Although a German admitted to me yesterday that perhaps the Koelners are a bit crazier. They start their celebrations on the Thursday before Ash Wednesday and the entire Niederrhein comes to a stop until Ash Wednesday. In Munich, the only day really taken off (officially) is Fasching Tuesday.

We finally caught up on our sleep today and didn’t get out of bed till 10 am. My cold is finally getting better and I’m not hacking up a lung like I was a few days ago. We got up and walked around in the Marienplatz today before lunch. Surprisingly, most of the tourist stores, some clothing stores and the major department stores were at least open until lunch. So we got our shoppin-on and power-shopped a bit before and bunches after lunch.

We ended up at our favorite restaurant for lunch again. Sabrina (the waitress that has adopted us as her lost American children) had told us yesterday that for Fasching, the Bratwursthartzl would be closed to the public. However because we know her, if we wanted to gain entry, we needed to tell the screeners at the door that we were friends of hers and that she recommended us for entry on this big party-day. It really is quite an honor to be taken in and treated so well for only having been here for four days. Personally, I am going to pat myself on the back for my gift of gab! I tend to make friends very easily (see four years of C’s and D’s in German in high school although ruining my GPA and entry opportunities into ISU may have actually paid off in friends and beer!) After all, only in Munich can one fully understand the true qualities of Gemuetlichkeit!

Phil ordered the Weiner Schnitzel with no gravy and a side of Spaetzel or spaetzele as they say it and I had the boiled beef topped with shredded horseradish and a side of that great cold potato salad with the cucumbers in it. That and a couple of weissbiers and I was good to go. We chatted for a good hour with our table buddies and had a very nice time. This place is really a “must stop” if any of you come through Munich.

Speaking of that horseradish, Phil was telling me to hurry up and eat because the smell from the fresh horseradish was so pungent it about was bringing tears to his eyes. Actually he said that he thought that while he was here he would never smell anything as nasty as the smell of that warm Gluehwein that they serve at the kiosks here in the Marienplatz. Well, he found he was wrong. He has now added the smell of that horseradish to his short list of disgusting smells he has experienced here in Germany!

Personally, I have nothing but good and warm thoughts of drinking Gluehwein. When we were out on the slopes of Tyrol, Austria in ’85, ’86, and ’87, the Gluehwein and the Jaegertea was the only stuff that would warm you right up. I have been obligated to have a couple for Eve back at Camp Victory. I don’t think I’ve quite had enough of them for her and me yet! I’ve got another four days to correct that situation.

We left the restaurant and went back to the hotel to relax a bit after all that food and such. Then back out to explore the town where we ran across a Starbucks. Yeah! Since our trip to Heidelberg, I’ve decided to start collecting these mugs. You’d think that the thought might have crossed my mind before now considering I have been to Starbucks in Qatar, Kuwait, Cologne and London. Okay, so I’m not always the sharpest knife in the drawer. But I’ve got another chance at getting my mugs from Qatar and Kuwait before I leave the Middle East in May.

We also found some Ritzenhoff glasses that we collect at a store on Sendlinger Strasse…and they were ON SALE!!! Whoo-hooo! Now how the heck to we drag all these breakables back? You never think about that when you’re checking out. It’s not till you get back to the hotel and then you have that sensible moment that you’d wished you’d had before you loaded up the shopping cart. Oh well, guess it’s better that we bought double what we wanted since it was on sale. That way there is room for breakage, right? It’s the best I can do to justify going nuts when we saw the red sale sticker on the price of the glasses.

We had such a late lunch that we really weren’t hungry for dinner. We went out and picked up a few small things to snack on and headed back to the hotel. Tomorrow things will be back to normal and the Muenchner’s will be nursing their hang-overs after going to church to get their ashes and ask for forgiveness for enjoying themselves so well during the Fasching holidays. Tschuss!

Munich - Heidelberg - Munich

27 February 2006

We pulled out tired butts out of bed early so that we could walk to the train station for our 0915am train to Heidelberg. I have a friend of mine that lives up there that was my trailer neighbor when he was in Iraq at Victory and we’ve stayed in touch. So he suggested that we could spend the night at his place. That was really very nice of him to offer and I accepted because I wanted to give Phil the experience of 1) Riding Die Bahn and 2) Seeing something other than the city of Munich.

Phil had remarked after the London trip last summer that he would have liked to have had the opportunity to check out the English countryside and experienced a bit more than that one city. So this was the perfect opportunity. The other reason I chose Heidelberg was that it was the first excursion for me away from Kalkar only one weekend after I had arrived there back in 1984.

The castle on the mountain gazing down over the town was just amazing to me. For me at that time, Heidelberg just overwhelmed my senses of history, Middle Ages and romantic era architecture as well as romantic views and ideas I had always read about in German classes in high school. Everything from Wagner, Goethe, Beethoven, Heine, Mozart; you name the artist; Heidelberg just embodied every idea of those artists and times.

So I am deeply grateful for being able to pass on to someone else my experience and love for this beautiful town. Although, I am pretty sure that Phil was ready to pummel me to a pulp after we walked up the steep incline required to view all this latent beauty! He spent about 10 minutes recovering (without a cigarette, mind you!) at the steps at the top of this incline. I guess I have forgotten how long of a haul it actually was. Beauty blinded me to the pain in my legs and feet when I climbed it the first time too.

Once at the top, we did the site-seeing and such. Did the Apothecary Museum in the castle, the castle gardens ( poor nearly naked Father Rhein wasn’t looking quite so happy as he did bathing in the water fountain during the summer!), the world’s largest wine cask not so dutifully guarded by the little person responsible with the big thirst, and other sites on the grounds. I must mention too that the view of the city and the “monkey” bridge to the other side of the Neckar River is beyond words. Too bad we had snow and wind blowing, but this IS Germany in the winter, after all and all people with any sense are down in Tyrol, Austria skiing.

When we got back, we had dinner, watch a couple of movies and crashed out. Up and Adam at 0630 as we had a return train for 0915am. Made it to the train on time and boarded where we were supposed to. It shouldn’t be too surprising that the trains are on time…nearly always. It is said that the only good thing Hitler did for Germany is that he made the trains run on time…that and the development of Volkswagen.

But, not so today. Our anticipated train time was set at three hours four minutes. We were running right on time until we got out of Ulm and about two minutes outside of Augsburg. I heard a strange noise sound for like 20 seconds unbroken but couldn’t place the sound. Then as the train was braking, Phil remarked to me that this was the fastest stop we’d experienced so far. There we were, stranded just outside of a small town when the conductor came on the speaker to announce the reason for our stop. Our train had had an “accident with a person.”

After I translated to Phil, he looked at me and remarked that it couldn’t have been any “accident” as we were on the center set of rails. As time passed, the conductor let us know that he couldn’t determine how long our delay would be due to legal requirements and not being allowed to move the train.

Talking with the Russian guy that was seated across from us, he makes this trip from Ulm to Augsburg a few times a week. He was saying that it was just last week Monday that another person was hit by the same train. Kind of makes you wonder if they need to rename that line the “Christine” run! But seriously, you have to wonder why the Frankfurt/Salzburg run is getting chosen for this particular mission. Maybe this line keeps its schedule too well.

After about 30 minutes, Phil saw a fireman and a train official walk past his window with a plastic bag with a bloody cell phone in it. After about ninety minutes, we were told that another Inter City Express train would pull up to our side and we would be allowed to proceed to Augsburg and Munich on that one. The only problem we had was that the first step up to the other train was about four feet up. The train people and other passengers helped everyone with their luggage and lifting passengers onto the new train. After our new train began down the tracks toward Augsburg, we saw a train employee walk down the aisle with a four foot ladder! Give that man a cookie.

Got back to Munich at about 2pm none the worse for the wear. Walking from the train station back through the Marienplatz, the Fasching celebrations for Rose Monday were well along. Not that we expected them to wait for us. Phil remarked to me that he was hungry and really wanted to get some of that roast pork that he had Saturday, so he dragged me back over to the Bratwurstharzl. Can’t say that I went there kicking and screaming, cuz the food and the bier is to die for! The food is as good if not better than the Heidelberger Fass or Zum Deutschen Eck in Chicago, except this place definitely has the atmosphere you can’t get back home.

Sabrina, our personal waitress at the Bratwurstharzl is our new Bavarian best friend. She kind of adopted us after that first day. As soon as we stepped in we got a very nice Bavarian greeting and she told us she had just the table for us. I ordered the Sauerbraten and Phil had his Schweinbraten. I told Sabrina that next time we will order the side dish of Spaetzel instead of the dumplings. I think Phil may find this a bit more to his taste too.

Walked around Munich and the Marienplatz for the rest of the afternoon and then decided to do Hard Rock for a late dinner. He wanted some dead cow, but I was more in the mood for something lighter. I ended up having a vegetarian sandwich with a couple of beers. Not bad and the sandwich didn’t leave me to overfull. We had a good waiter who spoke German in the beginning till we found out he was a Canadian imposter! From then on, it was English all the way. He had been there for a year or so and was saying how difficult it was for him since he is thinking now in German and having issues trying to remember English words sometimes. I told him I know how that is.

Did a bit of shopping at the Hard Rock, since you can’t leave there without spending about a $100 in trinkets and T-shirts. Finally got to bed at a decent hour. I think we’re both getting over the jet lag. More later.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Willkommen in Muenchen

25 February 2006

That’s what the McDonald’s billboard at the Munich airport says. Just can’t get away from it, can you?

The past few days have been somewhat relaxing once I gave into fate and chilled out. There wasn’t anything I was going to do that would have moved up my flight, so I was just like a newborn baby; eat, sleep, shop and poop. Okay, maybe a newborn doesn’t do the shopping thing, but the rest was the summary of my three days in Camp Arifjan until my flight this morning.

Before I left, I decided to take a shower and shave so that I at least felt human for the flight. By the time I got back from the showers, the two guys I was going to the airport with were pushing me along. They and the now two additional people we didn’t know were completing contract rounded out our group of now five going to the airport and they were ready to leave an hour early. So I quickly shoved everything loose into my bags and away we went.

Oddly enough, once we reached the airport, we were joined by another ITT employee jumping ship. The flow of people leaving seems to be increasing as we get closer to the end of May and the end of the initial ITT contract. In fact, Tom was saying that you know it’s time to get out when you start seeing the second wave of former employees returning to theater. Now that I’ve had my two year anniversary, I can say that he is right. I ran into another one of my former coworkers from the tech control from Victory at Arifjan, processing back in.

Another one of the hot topics was this bombing of that Shi’ite mosque by supposed Sunnis. Although I tend to believe that the media is really hyping the whole civil war thing up, it is still a very serious concern to all of us in the SW Asia Theater. Every one of those leaving echoed the same relief of not having to be back in Iraq with this all going on.

We were the second ones in line at the Lufthansa counter and as you might have already guessed, the Lufthansa flights were booked solid. In fact, anyone who wasn’t going directly back to the States were being asked if they would be willing to give up their seats…for a princely some too! They were offering me 600 Euro (about $750 US) AND next transport on another carrier to Frankfurt in a round-about-way. I think it was their famous and ever popular bizzare European airport tour to see the airports of Abu Dabai, Istanbul, Budapest, Warsaw and Athens all in one fell swoop via five diffent connections! I'd of ended up in Munich in front of the hotel via donkey cart, but I'd of made it there. If I hadn’t scheduled Phil’s and my flights to get into Munich within 10 minutes of one another, this boy would have been lining his pockets with Lufthansa’s money. I was only concerned that Phil would worry or that he’d have a hell of a time getting to the hotel and trying to get the room since it was in my name.

But it all worked out. My flight did, in fact, land about ten minutes behind his and we were able to meet up in baggage claim and go through the sharp eyes of the evil customs officers together. No sweat-ti-da! (for all you Kalkarites, you recognize a “Lenny-ism, right?) We decided to play rich tourists and took a taxi to the hotel. With three bags and two carry-ons, it just made life easier than lugging all that through the S-Bahn (Strassenbahn or street train, literally as opposed to the U-Bahn or Untergrundbahn or subway) and then walking 1/3 of a mile to a hotel we really didn’t know the location of other than the address.

The Kepensky Vierjaheszeiten (Four Seasons) is a beautiful old hotel in the middle of Munich and located on Maximillian Strasse across from the German “Rodeo Drive.” They had no problem with us requesting an early check-in, but asked if we could give them an hour to prepare the room. So we left all the bags (except for my Toshiba which is a growth of sorts on me by now) and walked around town some to become familiar with our new surroundings.

Oddly enough, the Hofbrauhaus and Hard Rock Café are only about two blocks away! The Marianplatz with the Glockenspiel is also only about three blocks away. While we were out, we both were feeling kind of hungry, so we started looking around for a place to catch a small bite to eat. No! We didn’t do Mickey D’s!

We finally settled on a little place called the Bratwurstherz’l or the Bratwurst Little Heart. When we asked the waitress if there was a place, she basically plopped us down at a table right near the door with five old guys having their lunch and Saturday brews. Phil gives me this look like, “can they do that?” I reassured him that this type of seating was pretty common in local places like this. I seem to have forgotten back about twenty years ago when this same situation shocked me too! It is actually a very nice custom. It gives you a chance to mingle with the locals and to just be a “mench” (a Yiddish word for a real person loosely derived from the German word Menchen or people.

So anyway, I settled on a Weiss beir mit Hefe (I prefer my Weiss beir ohne Hefe…without yeast or with the yeast strained off producing a clear or Crystal Weiss) and the very traditional white brats with a cold potato salad with a few cucumbers sliced in for color while Phil opted for the pork roast with the dumpling which he didn’t eat because it was kind of sticky and freaked him out some.

Started talking with the old guys a the table and had a great conversation with them. They were very forgiving of my German after I explained that I don’t speak often enough to maintain my vocabulary. Actually, they complimented me on my German. They said that it very unusual to hear such good German from an American…to which I blushed. I have to tell you that language is a very difficult thing to feel completely confident about and without any reservations or self consciousness. God did the whole Tower of Babel thing for a reason…to humble those of us who really think they can speak a second or third or forth language fluently! The only time you are completely fluent in your second or more language is after about three Weiss biers…honestly, no lie!

I was busy having a great time, but poor Phil was suffering the severe side-effects of jet lag. I think it was when he fell face-down with his nose in that dumpling ball that might have given it away. So we soon bid our farewells and made back to check into our hotel. Actually the only reason he was so antsy about getting back to the hotel and getting the baggage to the room was that he’d smoked his last cigarette and left his next fix in the suitcase that hadn’t been brought up to the room yet.

Once he had his fix, he was ready for nappy time. Not me though. I still had a new city to learn. I get that way whenever I first get somewhere. I have to go out and walk the city. Walk, walk, walk until my feet are sore. I go in circles a lot at times, but I get familiar with the new city and make it mine. I did find the Kaufhof Department Store and got some bath salts, a vanilla scented candle (since the air in the room tends to be rather stagnant and musty) and also a firmer pillow for Phil.

Walked over to the Hauptbahnhof (Main Train Station) and picked up tickets for Phil and me to make our way to Heidelberg tomorrow for a quick one-day visit and then return on Monday. More on that tomorrow. Then came back and took a nap myself. Didn’t sleep much since I was on that 230 redeye from Kuwait to Frankfurt. I never seem to sleep much on the flight anyway.

For dinner tonight, we just went over to the Hard Rock for some dead cow burgers. After all that disgusting fast pseudo-food-whatever-they-called-it at Arifjan, I needed some real dead cow in my stomach to remember what real beef tastes like! Then back to the hotel to check email and off to bed so we can catch that early morning train to Heidelberg. I was really looking forward to a soak in the tub with those bathing salts (since I can’t find ANY Mr. Bubble! And they call Germany a civilized country…No Mr. Bubble to be had!) but I’m about bushed. More later.

Can't Fight Fate

23 February 2006

My embassy flight out of Baghdad went without a hitch. The C-130 rolled in, disembarked passengers and equipment and we were hot-loaded directly on with the props still running. I was kind of disappointed that I had to fly like baggage on another C-130, but then again, maybe I’ve been too spoiled recently by flying so many times in and out of Baghdad on C17’s.

You see, on C-130’s you’re sitting in mesh cargo netting for seats, facing knee to knee with the people across the isle from you. Then try finding somewhere to stick your carry-on, your vest (if you choose to take it off) and your helmet. Did I mention that there aren’t overhead bins to store all that stuff you’ve decided to bring with you? It’s not comfortable and it’s not even economy-class. I’m not complaining, just trying to clarify the accommodations for those that haven’t ever had the pleasure of traveling “military fashion.”

C17’s on the other hand usually have pallets of airline-type seats loaded into the cargo-hold and locked down. The seats are a bit narrower and smaller than economy class, but I’ve not been on a flight yet that had every seat taken either. So I guess if you fully load a C17 and pack it too the gills with military “cargo” (people), it would probably be as uncomfortable as flying in a C-130.

Also should mention that since the C-130 has props and the C17’s have jet engines, there is a slight difference in travel time from Baghdad to Ali Al Salem of about 90 minutes on the C-130 versus about 60 minutes for the C17. But, either way, we made it into Ali Al Salem, Kuwait in time for dinner.

One of the things I hadn’t mentioned before now was that two days ago, I received an email from another old Air Force buddy of mine that I was stationed with in Germany. Dan ended up marrying a very nice German girl from Kalkar and is getting ready to retire soon…but not before he got sent to Afghanistan. Well, he got to Afghanistan and found that they needed him in a slot at (go ahead, I know that you’ve guessed it) Ali Al Salem, Kuwait!

So once I got checked into through the contractor’s cell (and called the ITT T3 weenies to be verbally abused that they aren’t my personal taxi and to put my righteous hiney on the bus to Arifjan. They’re such a pleasant lot) Dan and I went over to the chow hall and had dinner and the chance to catch up on the last 19 years. It has actually been kind of fun to have had the chance to run into people “in-theater” here from my past. There really must be something to that whole fate thing after all, huh? We all run in tighter circles than one might care to admit.

Stopped at the SATO (please don’t ask me what the heck that military acronym stands for cuz I just don’t know right now!) to see if I might be able to move my flight out of Kuwait to Frankfurt up a day or two. As it was explained to me, because of some holiday or another here, flights are all overbooked leaving Kuwait. Too bad, so sad, enjoy your stay in Kuwait! Guess I’ll be leaving on my scheduled flight on Friday night, really Saturday morning at 0215 to Frankfurt.

I caught the next bus to Arifjan at 2015 and finally arrived on base at around 2200. Kuwait isn’t that big of a country, but the only way that the trip from Ali Al Salem to Arifjan could have been longer is if the bus was running on rims! Yes folks, on location from Kuwait; it’s “Speed 15 – Arifjan Hell” starring Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock.

We made it to Arifjan on the slow bus…not to be confused with the “short bus.” Yes, I guess that I was a bit moody, so it didn’t help that being the stubborn so-and-so that I am, instead of getting on another bus to take me from Zone 1 to Zone 6, I decided I was going to hoof it…although I didn’t quite remember the way. So some nice lady stops when she saw me wheeling my suitcase down the sidewalk by the post office and asked if I was going to Zone 6. Why yes, I said. So she told me to hop in and she’d drive me down.

That was a lucky break since it wasn’t the ¼ mile I’d been told by the Army guys on the bus, but about ¾ of a mile! I thanked her profusely for her assistance and checked into the “ITT Hilton” (that term IS purely meant to be taken as sarcasm and not to be confused with any upscale hotels that have a pool, sauna and spa, okay) also lovingly known to us as Building 1465. It ain’t the Ritz, but it is has an open bunk or two.

After getting a bunk picked out and dropping my suitcase, I headed over to the PX for sheets for the bunk (because newspapers spread on the mattress, although warm, make too much noise when you roll over in your sleep) along with a few odds and ends AND stopped for a real cup of java at Starbuck’s. Real coffee is sooooo nice again. Don’t get me wrong, I only take the Green Bean’s Coffee Shop name in vein when I’m away from it and Victory. Once I’m back on Victory, all’s forgiven…only cuz it’s the only coffee shop in town!

So this morning, I wake up around 9 and discover one of the guys I used to work with at Victory who went up to Balad is leaving and out processing. Another guy I worked with at the Tech Control on Victory who left last year is here too…in processing. You just never know what the wind will blow in around here! Maybe I’ve been here too long. I guess if you stay long enough on the contract, everything and everyone comes around again.

Shock of shocks, I had the opportunity to go shopping again. Now understand here, that I’m really not a “clothes-horse” (an affectionate term used by us for one of our collegues…a guy, mind you, who is since gone, but brought about a month’s worth of clothes to Iraq and changed clothes twice a day!)…but I decided that I have to have some long-sleeve shirts since Germany is just a bit cooler than Baghdad…Imagine that! Besides, what better way to spend time after being completely grossed out during lunch consisting of a Deluxe Burger and Onion rings from Hurly’s, oops, I think it’s supposed to be Hardies, but I like the unintentional relation of the action-verb combo; “to hurl” after eating that trash.

BTW, have you seen “Supersize Me”? If not, you really should. You’ll never eat fast food again! (Just in case that ice/toilet water story from last week didn’t do it for you!) For my more sensitive readers, I about became incontinent with my urinary control and wet my pants laughing when he hurled out the car window! Is it me, or is it just plain freakish that those Mickey D’s French fries never got any mold on them when stored in that glass container for over one month?????!!!! Things that make you go, “Hmmmm.”

Speaking of plastic food, for dinner tonight, I went over to Kentucky Fried Greesebombs and had deep-fried, breaded, larded chicken lips and other chicken by-product pieces pressed and formed into strips, complimented with a sugar-water sauce containing tomato by-products considered a vegetable substitute for school lunch programs by a former dead president back in the 1980’s. Mmmmmm-good. You can probably hear my arteries and heart valves clogging all the way back home. I’m thinking I’m not missing fast food all that much after tasting it again. Maybe the chow hall isn’t such a bad thing after all!

I think after I leave Iraq, I’m going to go live on a kibbutz and raise sprouts and other organic foods, make homemade goats milk yogurt and be a misfit of society! Makes me wonder how I’m going to fit back into the World when I leave here.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Outbound Again

22 February 2006

Here I sit at the BIAP military terminal consisting of four Quonset huts a covered patio area and a bunch of crushed stone. I’ve sat out here in the worst weather; anything from 120 degree heat to 40 degrees with cold blowing rain. Today is probably one of the nicest days I’ve sat out here.

This is probably one of those vacations that I shouldn’t be taking with the end of contract coming up very soon. Not only do I lose the out-of-country money, but I end up spending a butt-load of money. At the same time, you have to reward yourself sometimes or you don’t see any balance for all the crap you put up with here during the rest of the year.

I’m enroute now to Kuwait. From there I’ll head down to Arifjan. Don’t know yet if I’ll get in contact with Barb an old ITT buddy that I studied ISO 9000 stuff under when I did that boondoggle to Qatar sometime back in 2004 that never panned out. Wasn’t her fault and in fact, she and our country manager have brought up the fact that they’d still like to have me onboard with their QC program, but I can’t afford the cut in pay I’d have to take to take on that job. Besides, without any Green Belt training, it just wouldn’t be justifiable. Gotta think about the future.

While at Arifjan, I will try to contact United/Lufthansa and see if I can move up my ticket to Germany. Usually, flights are very overbooked out of Kuwait, so I’m not expecting it to happen. The worst case scenario is that I sit in Kuwait for a couple of days. Granted, sipping a few brews in Germany while I wait for Phil to arrive is a much more pleasant scenario than sitting in Kuwait, but still…it is away from all the crap of Victory. Maybe this is the time to think about getting my “shoppin-on!”

Thursday, February 23, 2006

In Kuwait

23 February 2006

I'm back in Kuwait. I've got a post all ready to go, but I'm in MWR right now and they don't allow me to upload from my thumbdrive at this time. Wanted to catch a flight earlier to Frankfurt to start the vacation a bit earlier, but everything is solidly overbooked leaving Kuwait. So back to Plan B. Wait till my scheduled booking of 25 Feb at 0225.

I'll post more once I get access to either a wireless connection here or once I'm back in civilization in Germany.

Boy, I'd like a beer right now!

Friday, February 17, 2006

Big Mac and a Large Cup of Blue Toilet Water…No Ice

17 February 2006

Had a good day off on Wednesday. Did my usual laundry thing. I’m afraid that that will be coming to an end soon…and not because my wash-woman is on strike! They’ve taken away one of the good washers that was working and left the one that has been sitting half-full for two months leaving two functioning washers. Was it stolen or did it break? Who knows? Only one dryer is working now, so the competition is pretty stiff when it comes to doing your own laundry around here now. I fully expect that by the time I get back in mid-March that KBR will be doing my laundry. I don’t really want strangers commenting amongst themselves about my skid-marks – if you know what I mean!

Did some shopping at the Turkish store over by Green Beans and Pizza Hut. The Bazaar has been closed for “security reasons” for about two weeks now, so I have to get my shoppin-on (yes, too much “Scrubs” for me) somehow! Just a few odds and ends, but I really have been eyeing those Mehrschaum pipes. The carving is beautiful and even though I don’t smoke a pipe, they are just too nice. Hey, it’s cheaper than oriental carpets; that was sooo last year’s fixation!

While I was getting coffee tonight, I was sitting outside and got caught up in watching a bunch of the Aussies. JJ is going back to Oz, so his mates along with some of the Americans who “party” with them at the coffee place pretty regularly were giving him a pizza party and a few parting gifts. One of the gifts he received was a cricket bat. So they wanted to break it in for him before he leaves and pulled over a few of the Pakistani’s that work here to go over to the lighted basketball courts with some of the Aussies and they were giving us a display of cricket.

Now I’ve seen it often enough on the television when in the barber shop since all the barbers are Pakistani. I still haven’t quite figured out all the rules, but I do understand that when the ball is pitched, it is supposed to break on the ground and bounce up to be hit by the batter. I have no clue about the number of pitches or the running. Their pitching delivery is pretty unique to the game as well…quite the dramatic approach. Also noted; the bat is swung in an upward motion as opposed to the way a baseball bat is swung or the way you might bat a tennis ball. Naturally, you could always tell when an American was trying their skill at cricket since they can’t swing a cricket bat to save their lives and always miss the ball since it is breaking up from the ground!

On the digestive side of things, I’m finally feeling back to normal. We changed shifts from mids to days about four weeks ago and my body just physically revolted! Sorry to get so personal here, but my normal bodily functions just have not been quite the same since. Probably doesn't help that some stomach bug has been going around too! (Where’s that Milk of Magnesia lady when you need her?) When I look back at it, I’ve been working nights nearly all but about three months of the two years I’ve been here. So I guess it shouldn’t be too surprising that my body isn’t taking it too well. But, like everything else, this too shall pass…hopefully, more solidly with time.

Speaking of which, I read a really disgusting article on msnbc.com this morning. (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/11318353) It is titled, “Girls Science Project May Make You Rethink That Drink Order.” Pretty scary stuff! The general gist of the article is that this seventh-grader in Tampa did a science project of the cleanliness of your ice in your soft drink from those fast food restaurants. Turns out that there were far less bacteria in the toilet water of these restaurants than in the actual ice from the ice machines. Mmmmmm, scoop me up a big old glass of that blue water, will ya? I, for one, can’t wait to get back to “civilization” and fast food!

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Software...Good, Paper...Baaaad

13 February 2006

I’ve always had a love for political and editorial humor. It must be one of my personality quirks I got all the way back from when I started college and fell in love with those editorial comics about Three Mile Island, Russians in Afghanistan and Iran Hostage Crisis. I especially like the one of the two bomber pilots above Iran discussing the response to the Iran Hostage Crisis. Flying over Tehran, one bomber says to the other, "I'm all for a response to this Iran Crisis, but this is horrendous!" The other pilot, "Yep, there they go. 50 fully gassed up Ford Pintos!" (You know, well-known for their exploding gas tanks when rear-ended in the '70's?) Or maybe the NRC as a little old man taking a Frankenstein for a walk downtown (the Frankenstein with a shirt reading "Nuclear power" and the old man saying, "He's just a big old pussycat!" Or another personal fav is an old man on a rickety old horse-drawn fire engine with its horse ready for the glue factory, pulling away from the United Nations building in NY and him saying, "...and right after this, we'll get right over to that three-alarmer in Afghanistan!" in reference to a glacial UN response to the Russians in Afghanistan. (See, the UN was always ineffective and slow in dealing with reality!)

You ever feel like you are the last person in the world who’s not a pod-person? (Reference “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”) That’s about how I felt this morning. I came in early and was surprised to see on the front-page of my msnbc.com that His Majesty Dick Cheney “accidentally” shot a fellow hunter. Well the first words out of my mouth were, “Oh, so Dick took Scooter (Libby) out for a “hunting trip” eh?” To which the response to the above said remarks was 1) crickets chirping and 2) looks from my coworkers up the line of “what the heck are you talking about?”

So, without further adieu, for those of youse that don’t keep up with the political news/gossip, I’ll just sum it up by saying that Scooter Libby was the one that supposedly “leaked” information about Valerie Plame Wilson ending her career as an undercover operative (NOW they say with Dick Cheney’s permission – after the fact- of course since the VP can declassify information anytime he wants…even if it means blowing the cover of a long-time spy working as a secretary cum investigative genius) concerning the investigation of WMD’s/attempts by Saddam to obtain uranium and such in an attempt to try to prove that Saddam had nuclear capabilities as instructed by the President, resulting in Val’s (an undercover CIA agent having worked for the State Department in a series of embassy’s throughout the world over the last, say 25 years) suggesting sending her husband to visit and investigate the remote possibility of some small African nation selling stuff to Saddam, which to everyone’s surprise turned up no definitive or even remotely damning evidence that Saddam was trying to obtain/buy used uranium at bargain-basement prices for his little collection. No damning activities having been discovered (squashing THAT possible defense position for taking Iraq by storm..errr, purely coincidental reference to "Desert Storm"), info of the whole operation exposing Val as a spy was leaked, resulting in a real finger-pointing who-dun-it to assign blame for blowing the whistle on one of our long-time spies, uncovered and discovered to be Scooter, resulting in everyone backpedaling to try to clear Cheney from any involvement in the whole ball of wax (the leak of Val’s identity, not the shooting, soon to be labeled as an attempted hunting suicide, I’m sure…yet!) I should also mention that Cheney and Scooter are good friends from way, way back and still are to this day...according to news reports and probably the White House spin doctors. Hope that sums things up for you to better understand my sick, sick political humor today! It is almost too “Non Sequitur”ish (comic strip by Wiley Miller if you’re out of the loop) if you know what I mean?

In other news this morning, “The Flying Tomato,” aka Shaun White took Torino by storm! Whooo-hooo! After reading the write-ups on Saturday, it didn’t provide a lot of hope that our snowboarding hero would be able to pull it off. Imagine my surprise this morning eating breakfast and seeing on the big screen The Tomato on the screen nearly in tears as the Star Spangled Banner played. Good Job and very cool!

The last couple of weeks have been mostly uneventful. I’ve been dragging myself into the future, okay, into the present by working with this damned HP Pocket PC. I’ve been arm-wrestling with the sync/downloading of my CSV based address file transfer from Yahoo to my Pocket PC. Seems it might be a problem with my laptop having two versions of Outlook resident causing problems with the download or sync of the info from my laptop to the Pocket PC. If it sounds like Greek to you, it is to me too. But, I’m pulling myself through this and understanding more about it everyday. The ultimate objective is to get my info all pulled over to the Pocket PC and divorce myself of my Franklin-Covey Daytimer book forever! The Pocket PC already has everything else that I need, like the calendar, the note pad capability, and now all my address book complete with email addresses, so this upcoming vacation will complete my break with the paper copy of the daytimer.

Getting ready to take a nice vacation of eight days in Munich and then six days at home. Down to the point of the contract where I have a bunch of days that I must “use or lose”, so I’m ready for another trip to Europe. Phil is going to meet me in Munich and from there, the schedule should be pretty fluid. Should be fun considering we will be in Munich for the last two days of Fasching which are Rose Monday and Shrove Tuesday. After those festivities, I am thinking that we need to go see the BMW museum, definitely a trip out to Neuschwanstein and possibly a trip out to the concentration camp at Dachau. I’ve been to Dachau twice before, but always with different people. I think it’s an important trip that everyone should at least make once in their life. Very sobering and very sad.

On the up side, we will be in the Vier Jahrezeiten Kepenski about two blocks from the Hofbrauhaus. The hotel is in the center of town, so it should make it easier to get around. At least it will be away from the rain, mud and scum-filled pools of muck around the trailers at Victory.

We had had so much rain over the past few weeks, that KBR has stopped installing those 12 foot tall blast barriers. Actually, I think they may have halted on the project since one of them fell over into a trailer and is now peacefully resting on the steel girders which support the floor of the trailer. I guess the ground shifted with all the rain and such and the barrier just toppled over like a toy soldier. Fortunately, it was only a shower trailer that was damaged. Imagine if it was in the middle of the night and it was actually one of our living trailers? You would be able to ship whomever home in an envelope…just fold ‘em up and mail ‘em back. Maybe KBR will reevaluate the whole blast barrier setup…but don’t bet on it. If I was a betting man, I’d say the odds of getting flattened by a 12 foot concrete blast barrier versus getting hit and killed by a mortar are about equal at this point. We will have to talk to hajji for the spread on those odds.

Speaking of which, just two nights ago, there were sirens wailing for about an hour and heading in the direction of the back gate. Soon afterwards, we had a couple of incoming mortars. All the newbies at the trailer park were all yakking about the incoming. It’s funny how you forget what it feels like to have the ground shake underneath you when it is relatively quiet for so long.

So later in the night, I’d finally gotten that address book to load into my Pocket PC as an Excel doc versus a CSV doc (since Outlook is sooooo user friendly!) and I decided to break from it and go down to the Green Bean to celebrate with a Triple Chi Latte, my conquering (or rather winning a somewhat decisive battle in my quest of understanding this Pocket PC) yet another step in freeing myself from my paper Daytimer. Software…yeahhhh! Paper…boooo!

On my way back to the trailer, I was walking past the TMC and nearly ended up corralled up into a group of local and foreign nationals who were without escort and under guard of a soldier with a weapon. It’s no fun to have a weapon pointed at you at night and be accused of being one of the “usual suspects”. I’m not saying that my life flashed before my eyes or anything that dramatic (after all, blogs are allll about drama), but it certainly made me think that maybe I should be a bit more careful with the company I keep!

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