Saturday, March 25, 2006

PA3237U-1ACA You Idiot!

25 March 2006

As Joan Rivers would say, “Can we talk?”

Back three weeks ago, I was sitting in our hotel room in Munich and plugged my Toshiba laptop in to be surprised by sparks and a bit of smoke from my power supply. I carefully turned the cord toward itself and the juice kept flowing to the computer without any further draw on the battery. Suffice to say that a mental note was made that as soon as we got back home to Chicago the following Monday, I’d order me a new power supply to replace this one that was not feeling so well.

Fast forward to Wednesday afternoon in Chicago and Fed Ex delivers my new power supply. You gotta love the States. Where else can you order it over the web and have it the next day!? On a side note; we do have Fed Ex and DHL right on post at Camp Victory, but it is a bit more expensive and a little longer delivery time. So I pull this new bad boy outta the box and to my disappointment, the wrong connector is on this one. My connector is a funky six-sided thingy (yes, that is a technical term) not a female plug-in whose-a-ma-whatsis (also a technical term).

So I get on the phone to this company that I ordered from (I can’t believe how great it is not to be 9 hours ahead of the rest of world and able to get right on the phone that instant, just like that!) and explain my quandary. The kind man on the other end of the phone discovers that I’ve made an error on my part number ordered and gives me an RMA number to return this one with and kindly orders (and bills me for) the proper one for me for delivery on Friday morning. Very cool…no?

Well, yes and no. Friday A.M. rolls around and the kindly Fed Ex delivery gods deliver my new power supply. I rip open the box like a kid on Christmas morning only to find out that the nice guy that I was speaking to on Thursday morning was smoking his breakfast and sent me another one of the same wrong part. At this point, I’m kinda panic-stricken because my power supply has been getting more squirrely by the minute and I don’t know how much more juice I can squeeze out of it without a complete melt-down.

I end up giving up on this and figure that I’ll just have to do without until I get back to Baghdad and can reorder (from another vendor NOT in California and smoking their breakfast) another P/S for my poor Toshiba. I send the two incorrect P/S’s with Deb back to AZ so she can get another RMA to send them back and hopefully not PO her in the process. Yes, military life really builds your vocabulary of acronyms; ain’t it grande?

I was able to squeeze about four days out of my P/S once back to Iraq, and then with much smoke and sparkage, it died. If KBR actually had batteries in my smoke detector, it probably would have sounded. Thank goodness it didn’t take the trailer with it! So, RIP to my old PA3237U-1ACA. Meanwhile, back on the web, I scouted me out another supplier who sells “rebuilts” and ordered me one of them buggers at less than half the price of the brand new ones that I’d ordered, been charged for but not yet been reimbursed for from the breakfast-smokin-California-power-supply dealer.

Less than 9 days later, I’m the proud owner of a brand new used and rebuilt PA3237U-1ACA. I’m so happy, I could wet my pants. You don’t know how much you depend on your ‘puter here till you don’t have it. Although, I did start reading books again while my computer was down. I bought “Marley and Me” when I was home so I read that. A great read especially if you’ve ever suspected that you ended up with the dog or cat that had no brain! And now I’ve started “Eragon” which was given to me as a Christmas gift. I’ve got to order the second book in the series now that I’m hooked.

To celebrate my new juice supply, I watched the movie Rent. I must say that I was very overwhelmed and touched. I was reading NY Times reviews of the Broadway version and they are kind of mixed. After thinking about it for awhile, I am thinking that many of those who are so critical probably are missing many of the key points and issues presented in this movie/play due to lack of understanding of the terms and the timeframe this play was drafted.

At the time, AZT was about the only known medication available that was proven to have any impact on pre-AIDS HIV symptoms and the diseases ravages on the body as it became full-blown AIDS. People were still dropping like flies and in 1989 the general public was still very uneducated about the disease.

Moving ahead to current treatment regiments, one of the messages in the movie has actually become a reality. “To people living with…not dying from disease.” People are able to live with this disease and live healthy, quality lives; being able to give back to society. People today that maintain their drug regiments aren’t dying from AIDS so much as they are from later stage illnesses of HIV much later in life, like liver failure, pneumonia, heart problems and such.

The three different love stories told in this movie are very touching and the story of the group of friends is also very moving, not to mention that the music is phenomenal. One of the other complaints of the stage version on the NYT page is that the orchestra was drowning out the singers. So maybe the stage version needs some reworking. I think that I’d still like to see it on the stage.

As a side note, Idina Menzel who also starred in the original Broadway production of Wicked is fantastic as Maureen. You can’t believe the voice on her. Also, after her run on Broadway in Rent, she ended up falling in love with and marrying one of her costars Taye Diggs (Benny). Idina’s duet (Take Me or Leave Me) with Traci Thoms is worth the price of the DVD. It’s my second favorite track with only La Vie Boheme being my pick as the best track.

Well, time for bed after I read a bit more of Eragon. Nighty-night.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

DEAT OR >>>

17 March 2006

“Erin Go Braugh” and a Happy Saint Paddies Day to all! Saw in the news yesterday that they’ve already dyed the Chicago River green for the occasion…as if it needed any more help. Growing up in a city with such an Irish influence, it was always said that no matter what your background, everyone is Irish on March 17th. But here in Iraq, it’s just another day on the calendar.

I can’t believe that the last two weeks have passed so quickly. Seems like yesterday that we were sitting on the runway in Munich for an hour waiting for runway two to be cleared of snow and open up. We had a great flight back after a great eight days in that fantastic city. If you ever have the opportunity to make it to Munich…better yet, make the opportunity to visit that city. The people, the food, the city, the beer are beyond words. And kudos to the hotel staff at the Kempinski Vierjahrezeiten on Maximillian Strasse. This hotel is the only place to stay in downtown Munich. Some of the clientele are a bit stuffy, but the staff is absolutely down-to-earth.

My seven days at home just flew by. I caught yet another cold while I was at home which was only made tolerable by the fact that I was able to be sick and sleep in my own bed. I didn’t let it stop me from enjoying the stay at home. I had a whole big list of things to do. The best part of the trip home was having the nephew and niece over Friday night with help from my sister Deb who flew in from AZ. Saturday, she took the niece for the Mario Tricoci treatment while the nephew and I did breakfast, IMAX and the mall. Like me, my nephew has a weakness for Borders and Barnes and Noble so we ended up dropping an easy sixty or so there.

Saturday night we all met up with the rest of their clan at the Allstate Arena for the Wolves Hockey game. The number two nephew was playing in a kiddie hockey scrimmage between periods. It was great to see him enjoying himself so much on the ice. He told his parents before hitting the ice that he was going to check this one kid. Sure enough, he checks him and then goes down face first into the ice. What a nut!

We left the kids with their parents and Deb and I made our way back to Sycamore only to find ourselves in the fog. The fog was so thick you could have cut it with a knife and poor Deb was sweating bullets the whole trip home. My biggest worry was that someone would stop in the middle of the street and I wouldn’t see them or that I’d hit a deer, skunk or critter of some sort. But like Dad taught us, slow and steady will get you there in one piece.

Deb headed back to AZ on Sunday and dropped my off at the same time. We were both on United, so that made it easy at the airport. My plane got out to the runway and then we got held up for two hours with a thunderstorm passing through. O’Hare had stopped all flights in and out after we got rolled out for takeoff. Was still able to make the connection to Kuwait but it certainly didn’t allow for much of a cushion in timing.

Not too much has changed at Victory in the couple of weeks I’ve been gone. One thing that has changed and caught our attention is the road passing the Green Beans Coffee Shop is blocked off for construction. For the entire time I’ve been here, this road has been nothing better than the original Oregon Trail. Now they’ve decided to actually scrape it down a foot deep and actually lay rock and pavement. Why the big improvements now? Anyone’s guess.

But just make sure to mind the signs that say “DEAT OR >>>” Not that I’m one to point out the obvious, but I think that Wiley Coyote meant “Detour” when he wrote the sign. And I have yet to see Road Runner buzz past our coffee shop! The comedic value of that sign speaks for itself. I’ll have to get a picture of this sign…once I replace my poor Olympus All-Weather camera which has "bought the farm" (maybe "bit the dust" is a more appropriate metaphor considering the concrete-like dust around here) after two hard years in Iraq.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Bidding Goodbye to Munich

05 March 2006

Good Morning! And yes it is. The air is all fresh and crisp from the constant snow that we’ve had over the past almost three days now. There has to be about two feet of snow out there and my Hofbrauhaus Hangover is gone. It only took about 18 hours of sleep, a lot of water and a very little bit of food, but I’m feeling good today. I'm not exactly ready to paint the town red again, but feeling good.

Got up at 7am today since I didn’t do squat yesterday as far as getting the list done (of all the things and stuff we've bought which required the purchase of an additional suitcase to fit said stuff into) or the packing done. The bad news is that the hotel staff is not being real optimistic about our chances of getting out. They were saying that taxis are pretty hard to come by. They dial the number and no one answers. The best bet might be to take the S-bahn or to flag down a taxi. I don’t really want to take the bahn to the airport with all the stuff we have. Four suitcases and two carry ons are a bit much to be hauling around the streets to the train station and then up the steps to the airport.

I suggested to Phil that we might stay another day, to which he didn’t give an argument, but after checking weather.com, it isn’t looking like the weather is going to let up any in the next day or so here in Munich.

It's 11am and we decided to take our chances on getting a taxi and left the hotel by 10am. The flight isn’t till three, but better to be there than miss our flight or worse yet, be late for the flight. On the ride to the airport, the taxi driver was telling us that the S-bahn to the airport was not working this morning! Wouldn’t that have been our luck; to drag all that stuff to the Marienplatz Station and then be stranded!

The city streets were pretty bad, but once we got out to the Autobahn, everything was clear. The Germans don’t like to use salt in the city for environmental reasons. I don’t think that they can say that about their lack of street plowing though. Although they don’t usually get these amounts of snow. You have to be thinking that the ski people in Garmish about one hour south are going to be having a good season this year.

Got to the United/Lufthansa counter, but they don’t start check-in until 12-12:30, so we’re about an hour early. The snow is still falling, but it looks like there has only been a couple of flights cancelled. They are still working on the runways, so I think we’ll be okay.

1 Maas, 2 Maas, 3 Maas, Floor

04 March 2006

My friend came down on Friday night as planned. We saved the visit to Hofbrauhaus since he also wanted to go there. The plan was then to go on Saturday over to Dachau and see the concentration camp.

We found a seat right away next to a nice Japanese couple who were there and gone in ten minutes. We got our first beers ordered and a group of local Germans in their early twenties showed up and filled up the open spots at our table. Open seating is very common here in nearly all the local drinking and eating places. The only place that it isn’t normal is at your upscale restaurants and such.

Soon enough our food arrived. Not as good as the Bratwursthartzl, but still alright. You actually go to the Hofbrauhaus for the atmosphere, the people, the orchestra and the beer anyway. Every song you’ve ever heard on a cuckoo clock has been derived from drinking music and you will hear it here if you stay around long enough.

The problem with the beer here is that it is always great and fresh, but has that delayed effect. Keep in mind the that German beer is higher in content and taste than nearly any American beer you have ever drank. German Beer Purity Laws (Established in 1516) ensure that only certain ingredients go into be and nothing more (now you might understand why American beer wasn't for a long time, allowed to be imported into Germany. Too many ingredients and preservatives for them). This gives their beer better flavor but also stronger alcohol content.

Anyway, as your sipping your little bit of German heaven, you think you’re doing great. And THEN…bum, bum, bum…it hits you! Well, I kind of got all caught up in the moment and of course, if one maas (big glass mugs containing one liter) of beer is good, two must be better and three must be really good! Wrong bad news. Well, it bit Phil too, so I wasn’t alone in my misery. The only thing that pisses me off is that Phil wasn’t as bad off as I was today. He got up because this hard mattress is killing his back. I stayed in bed because it was just too hard to stay up too long! No laughing from the peanut gallery.

I called my buddy to tell him that there was no way that I was going to be able to make the trip to Dachau. I really felt like a jerk doing that to him, but there was just no way it was going to happen. He said that it was probably alright since the weather probably wasn’t ideal for going there anyway. It has been snowing all night and day and there has got to be a foot of snow on the ground right now.

So, I’m going to go back to bed and suffer in peace. I have to get the suitcases packed and the gift list all written out so that I know how much we’ve spent and what we have to declare tomorrow when we leave. More later when the head stops throbbing.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Crazy (as in Ludwig II) Kind of Day

02 March 2006

Before I even start to go into this day, I just want to say that I’ve had a change of heart. I will cave on this one and admit my stubbornness and occasional hatefulness here and say most is forgive with the Ayinger thing last night. After I slept on it last night, I still had to admit that the food at this place was nothing short of great. The beer, well need I say more? So really my beef, if you’ll pardon the pun, was with the service at this place.

Now granted I won’t go back there again, while I’m here this time. There are so many places to eat great German style food in Munich, that you couldn’t eat at every one of them if you had a month vacation here! We have challenged ourselves day in and day out to find a place that has anything nearly as bad as the best English food we had in London!

Now as far as the service goes, I just think Wermers got himself into the wrong occupation. Perhaps with his puckered prune face and unfriendly type attitude, he might investigate opportunities that would not put him in such close contact with the public…maybe like a mortician or a post office worker where his attitude will be easily forgiven by others. You know what I’m talking about, right? The Lilly Tomlin operator type. “Yellow. No I’m sorry we can’t help you. Pardon. No, really, we DON’T care. We’re the phone company, we don’t have to care.” Course that was when there was only one phone company…and she really was a MOTHER!

So we got our happy behinds out of bed early today to make the bus trip to Neuschwanstein. Now if you’ve never heard of the place, it is known as Crazy Ludwig II’s biggest mistake. I supposedly cost him his throne. Actually, his loss of the throne was a purely a political tussle among his haters in Munich. Ludwig was actually an artsy kind of guy who just wanted to be left alone but was thrust into power by his father’s early death.

One thing that particularly surprises me is that for as uneducated and unschooled as Ludwig II was, he actually was into some very deep material and artists. He loved the writing of Schiller and loved the music and operas of Wagner. These are not the tastes of some dolt ascending the throne that didn’t have at least some proper education and breeding. But his lack of education did ultimately put him at a disadvantage when pitted against his adversaries in Munich as we found out.

Our first stop on this bus tour was to Ludwig’s first palace just outside of Oberammergau. It isn’t a very big palace actually, but inside it was very ostentatious. It was built in tribute to the French style which he very much admired. Of course we saw all the guilded rooms and French reproductions. Then there were the unique things like the gray marble fireplaces, brown marble fireplaces, malachite table from Russia, lapis lazuli fireplace and the like. Every detail was drafted and verified by Ludwig himself. He lived in this palace during most of most of time in that area.

We really didn’t get to view and walk the gardens and see all the statuary since it was covered for the winter. The weather was not too great today either. Started out clear, cold and windy with temps about 20F. But the way the palace is situated on the mountain side, it really gave him great views of his rear and front gardens. I could see him living very comfortably in that place.

From Linderhof, we went down to Oberammergau for a quick shopping excursion. This town was only about six kilometers from Linderhof and is also famous by its own rights. Oberammergau is mostly famous for the passion play it puts on every ten years. Only native born Oberammergauers are allowed to act in the play which recreates the Passion of the Life and Death of Christ. How this was explained to us was that after the 30 years war came the great plague. Oberammergau was so descimated by these events that they prayed and prayed and prayed to God for mercy. The promised Him that if he would hear their prayers that they would make sure to remember his mercy on them for generations to come.

I had heard about the Passion Play when I lived here, but since it is only held every ten years, I missed the 1990 edition. Our guide advised us that tickets for the play which runs from April through September are sold out years in advance and are very pricey, but that they probably could still be had if we were interested for 2010. Something to think about if you’re planning a trip to Germany down the road some.

From Oberammergau, we proceeded to the city below Schloss Neuschwanstein. We finally were able to catch lunch. Once again, a pretty stinking good lunch although portions were a bit small. Still hungry? Have another Weissbier. That should hold you over till later.

Since Phil was not up to climbing up to another castle, he suggested that for 5 Euro a piece that we take the horse-drawn wagon up to the top. He said that his legs are still aching after Heidelberg! That was fine with me. The weather at this point was somewhat overcast and sloppy. The road leading to the castle was snowpacked in some places and horse-dung covered in other places. Melting ice and snow and squished horse-dung piles only mean one thing…a real nasty watery mess that you don’t want on your shoes!

Went through the tour of the castle and found it quite interesting. As with Linderhof, what is completed of Neuschwanstein is very ornate and its construction was completely overseen by Ludwig personally. Ludwig built this castle in a theme of Middle Ages. So the arches and such are all replicating that of the Middle Ages buildings. This castle was also built as a tribute to Richard Wagner’s operas. So each room contains murals with scenes from different Wagner pieces and Middle Ages stories. The only one right now I can think of is Tristan and Isolde. I remember reading that in German classes back in high school too.

His throne room is phenomenal with six apostles on either side of where the throne was to be located, six canonized kings above his throne and the risen Christ above them all. The inlayed mosaic floor contains some millions of pieces in a hunting/animal scene, St George slaying the dragon is on the back wall and a chandelier that weighs two tons in the shape of a crown hangs above the room. Aside from the bedroom, I’d say that this throne room is probably the most beautiful room that we saw in the castle.

Part of the problem also is that since the castle was never finished, tours are only allowed in completed areas. For as large as this castle is, you really only get a taste of what it really could have been. It is also said that this castle was the inspiration for Disney’s castle.

By 4:30, we were on the road back to Munich. Quite the full day. We were walking through the Karl’s Tor when I asked Phil what we were going to do for dinner. The reminded me that I wanted to go back to Bratwursthartzl. Well, especially after yesterday, you weren’t going to get any argument from me on that suggestion.

Saw Sabrina today and told her about our incident at Ayinger. I was telling her that our waiter was too good for us and rubbed my finger up the underside of my nose. She just cracked up and said, “Well we aren’t that way over here and you’re welcome in here any day!” Now that’s the kind of atmosphere I can live with…that’s Gemutlichkeit. Need I say anymore? My slice of stuffed veal roast, some of that potato salad with the cucumbers and a couple of weiss biers and I’d say it was about the perfect ending to the perfect day.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

All About Attitude

01 March 2006

Man it’s been cold, cold, cold here today. More snow and the wind just cuts right through ya. We started the day off today with a field trip out to Laim a few stops on the Schnell-bahn (S-bahn, I stand corrected for what S-bahn stood for!) out to the west.

Phil was on a quest to see the new Chryslers that are released here in Germany and not in the States after he saw a 300C Touring Stationwagon on the street of Munich this week. He has a Dodge Magnum wagon, but they are not sold here under that nameplate or model. His Magnum wagon is sold here as the Chrysler 300C and the options are also quite different.

We ended up talking to the salesman for a good hour just learning about what they sell, the huge price differences in Germany versus the U.S. and the options available here versus there. He was saying that actually, the diesel version of this 300C in Germany is much more popular. Most of what they sell are fully optioned 300C’s, but the price is unbelievably high. Phil made sure to get a booklet on it and we got his business card so we can send him info on the Dodge Magnum and its options. Phil made me take all kinds of pictures of this vehicle. This is a great chance for him to see something that interests him too. He has always been a car nut and our visit to Europe expanded his horizons in that direction too.

We had lunch at the Hard Rock since it was just around the corner. We have a favorite waiter there too…the Canadian guy, although that sweet Spanish girl Maria was nice too. At any rate, feeling welcome in a place (even if it is a trendy place a step above Micky D’s) just makes life a bit more comfortable when you want something familiar. We did a bunch of shopping today too. You know, you can’t go on vacation and not pick up stuff for the family.

Speaking of making life easier, we decided to have dinner a bit closer to the hotel too. We went over to the Ayinger Restaurant kiddy-corner from the Hofbrauhaus and next to the Hard Rock. The reviews that I’ve read were good, so that was on my list of places to give a try. The food was great, but the service sucked. Oh, I’m sorry, did I say the service sucked. What I really meant was that the only way the service could have sucked any worse was if this waiter had a twin. Herr Wermers had more attitude than an American "Desert Queen" in Iraq! He swished in and out with his nose in the air, was snippy when he took our order, delivered the food and when he took the check.

I have no qualms about leaving a 15% tip even for marginal service and even here in Germany where the Germans don’t usually even tip, but there is no way that this little butt hole was going to get a red cent out of me for his attitude or service. On my way out, I asked his boss if Wermers had a problem with us. I was calm and relaxed and just thought it better to bring my perceived issue directly to them.

He looked at me puzzled, so I explained that the service provided, our waiter’s lack of concern and lack of warmth seemed to indicate to us that he wasn’t happy to be bothered with our visit to the restaurant. I told him that in the five days we’ve been in Munich, we have never been treated so poorly. Well he calls Wermers over and they both proceed to look at me like I’ve got three heads. At that point, I knew it was an attitude that was promoted at this place of business. Sheesh! If I wanted attitude, I’d of vacationed in New York City!

So please avoid Ayinger (that’s Ayingers Speis & Trank at Am Platzl 1A) and their products unless you like being treated like garbage as their customer. Maybe their attitude is the norm and we just got spoiled with all the other service we’ve had in all the other places in Germany that we’ve eaten, had coffee at, shopped at and stayed at. Based off my other experiences in Germany, I’m pretty sure that these two guys at Ayinger are just jerks. Okay, been there, done that. Let’s move on.

On tap for tomorrow: Bus trip to Neuschwanstein! Whoo-hoo!

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