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Archive for October, 2010

This post is sub-titled “Fuck You Bobby Burrito.”

I am sitting in a wine bar in the Dulles airport drinking a $35 bottle of Argentian Malbec as rapidly as possible.  I only have an hour until they start calling standby names, and I overheard the gate agent say that there are 55 names for 2 seats so I really don’t want to miss my name being called.  I wonder if it’s going to hurt my chances that I asked her where the cheapest alcohol in the terminal could be found.  I really hope not, as I hate this airport more than my own bitter life and if I have to stay here it’s highly likely I will go on a crime spree.

Dulles is the worst airport in the Goddamn world.  When I got off the plane yesterday from Germany I was shepherded onto some Star Wars desert cruiser to be ferried across the tarmac.  Why in God’s name this contraption was hit upon as the best passenger transport solution escapes even my wild imagination.  The only reason I am stranded on Tatooine is because United decided I needed to be routed through Dulles with a one-night layover on my way home.  When I booked my ticket I did not realize what a dick move this was.

After claiming my bags, I am punched in the face repeatedly by how helpless you are to get Bobby Burrito’s address and phone number out of your gmail in the Dulles airport when you have left your $500 smartphone in a rental car in Barcelona. First, none of the wireless networks will connect to my ghetto-ass Dell computer.  Fine, moving on.  At the information desk, I literally blow a volunteer retiree’s mind by describing an internet terminal such as exists in every airport in Europe.  Finally, did you know that to call Thomas Benedict, have him not answer, and hang up in the first two seconds of his inane answering message costs $1?  Not that $1 is a big deal considering the thousands I was blowing in Europe, but apparently there is a huge change shortage in the baggage claim area of the Dulles airport.

My next brilliant move to try to get Burrito Boy’s vitals is to call my parents to have them search my gmail for the information.  I tried my brother first, and I only have 3 numbers memorized thanks to regular brownouts the past ten years, so cut me some slack.  My parents are mystified as to how to use gmail.  I am pumping quarters into the phone while they say things like “I_love_burritos @gmail.com, HulkHogan_Is_A_Douche34@yahoo.com, which one of these do you want?”  My greatest fear is for them to discover any pictures from FBO or really pretty much any weekend of my life.  God knows what my mom found in her two hours of free access until I changed my password.  Anyway, my mom is able to find Burrito’s phone number and calls him to get his address.  His response?  “I was expecting him 3 hours ago.”  Thanks, Tortilla-Head.  Now I am the retard who not only lost his phone in Spain but takes 3 hours to figure out how to call you from the Dulles airport.

“Hey, Bobby Burrito, can you drop me off at the Metro station?”

“Oh sure, I just need to take a dump, stop by the job site, discuss the merits of Bed, Bath and Beyond iPod speaker systems with Julio, ask Julio his opinion of moustaches, and then while you wait in my car I am going to show Julio some photos on my phone.”

It is interesting to note that for once I had a good plan – get on the Metro at 3pm – thwarted by who I choose to associate myself with.  Not that I would change anything, I just need to accept that I am never going to make a flight again for the rest of my life.  Ironically, I will have to spend that life stuck in the Dulles airport.

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French wedding

Our first day at the Vendange was a Friday.  On Saturday I attended a French wedding.  Tate’s cousin, Max, was getting married.  I already liked Max because he had provided a free place to stay for a week in Paris.  Also Tate seemed to like him.  I was as happy to see him be married as a random American at a French wedding can be.

When we arrive fifteen minutes late to the church ceremony, they try to seat me in the front row with Tate.  This is inappropriate because 1) I am not family like everyone else in the front row (much less French) and 2) Tate has been introducing me as her “friend” which means that I probably shouldn’t be at this wedding anyway, much less in the front row.  Logic and Tate’s dad prevail, and I am seated near the front row.  Awkwardly, instead of facing the priest and pulpit like everyone else in every church ever, I am seated pointed directly at the couple to be married and therefore the entire congregation.  Later I figure out that I am seated in the section with all the wedding helpers – people who read bible passages, feed me Jesus flesh and in some cases sing.  These are all people who have been close personal friends of the couple since forever.  Everyone knows who these people are.  Nobody knows the random American douche in a business suit.

The ceremony ends and we head to the reception.  In France, it’s typical to invite about twice as many people to the cocktails part of the reception as to the dinner.  So dad’s business contacts get cocktails, but only family and close personal friends get free dinner and all night dancing.  At this wedding, I think about 400 people were at the reception and 250 people at dinner.

The cocktail reception is freezing.  There is female nipple poking out everywhere.  I loved it.  Ok, perv, not because of that.  Because the hors d’eurves were delicious and I had all the champagne I could drink.  Much better champagne than Charlier (were I was working the vendange).  It was called Pol Roger.

The dinner took place in a barn.  This makes sense because Max’s dad is a French potato baron, and has a huge barn for his fiefdom.  We get assigned seats, and thank god I am with Tate.  We were the hodge-podge table.  Tate and random American, couple from Max’s new job, French dude from Max’s former job in Mexico, and three Mexican girls.  After a week of boring French girls, these Mexican girls were a breath of fresh air.  They were all wearing really tight and colorful clothing like they were going out clubbing.  I don’t know what a Mexican wedding is like, but I really want to attend one.  It has to be an awesome time based on how these girls prepared for a wedding.  Additionally, they were there to party.  Our table was crushing bottles of wine and clearly having the best time.

After we were all seated, an awesome French song came on and everyone got up on their chairs and starting hooting.  Then the married couple came in together and literally danced their way through all the tables to the head table.  The majority of people were twirling their napkins above their head while they hollered.  It was the coolest entrance I have ever seen.  The married couple was clearly having so much fun as were all the guests.  Anyway, for the first time in my life, I have a strong desire for something to happen at my wedding (acknowledging that my actual odds of marriage are low).

The wedding dinner entertainment started with embarrassing speeches and videos from the bridesmaids and groomsmen.  The bridesmaids conducted a confusing skit with masks.  People seemed confused.  The groomsmen stuck with the classics – hilarious videos of Max.  My personal favorite was a short video of  a Mariachi band.  Out of the left frame emerges Max with his arms spread, shoulders moving rhythmically to the music, moving backwards.  It was so random and funny.

After dinner the wedding turned into an all-ages dance party primarily consisting of the old men dancing with the twenties French girls.  Lots of twirling.  Somewhere in there (admittedly it’s hazy) the old people left got tired and it became a dance party.  The last thing I remember, there was a famous Parision DJ spinning French dance music with fog and lasers.  It was an awesome wedding.

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Dormitory dining

For my last few nights in Barcelona I am staying in a Dormitory.  At the entrance lies a vending machine.  Being drunk tonight because I have a flight in the morning, I needed something from this vending machine.  I am always tempted by chocolate, but my body needed something more hardy.  About to punch in the code for Doritos Tex Mex, I spied something strange in the lower left-hand corner.  I know about Barcelona’s obsession with Patatas Bravas, so I was willing to believe that the package in the lower left-hand corner contained chocolate and potato wedges.  “I have to try this”, I thought to myself smugly.  “Wait until I tell the boys about this one.”  I push the code in and, *gasp*, the item doesn’t come down the chute.  Just some potatoe wedges and chocolate, hanging out.  I start banging on the machine until the security dude comes over.  He really gives it to the machine, and in the process knocks loose something called “CHUFI”.  CHUFI looks like milk with something delicious added to it.  Possibly coconut.  Securityman doesn’t realize that a free CHUFI has befallen me, and I make my way to my room victorious.

Obviously it was not potato wedges.  It was actually a chocolate croissant.  If you picture the wedges in a croissant, you will agree that it was an innocent mistake.  The CHUFI was worth the price paid.  It was not coconut.

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Vendange – Day 1

The bright idea behind coming to Europe was to work the vendange, earn some money, then blow all that money in Spain.  Vendange is French for harvest, though in France it is referring specifically to the grape harvest.  Because the French are lazy, or because of labor laws, or for some reason there is supposedly great demand for grape pickers around September every year.  I say supposedly, because all of my knowledge about the vendange was second-hand through one Tate Delloye.  Supposedly we could earn 2,000 to 2,800 Euros for ten days for work.  Supposedly we would get great free French meals and all the champagne we could drink.  It would be a great experience to pick grapes for a small Champagne house.  And it was only 10 days!  How bad could it be?  According to Pete Stolpman, working the vendange was a terrible idea.  Oh wise Saint Peter.

Tate’s father drove us from Paris to the farm, where we met Tate’s cousin’s former middle school classmate, Jif.  Jif is the second son of the owner of the vineyard and our connection to this vendange.  He is 22, goofy, and has that inability to figure out when he’s saying something interesting versus not that is common among dumb spoiled kids and certain breeds of duck (chichburger!  bet you didn’t see that coming.).  However, he speaks English so he’s immediately the front-runner for best friend at the vineyard.

We drink some pretty good champagne and get introduced around.  There are three categories of workers – young pickers who are mostly college students or just out of college, old pickers who have been doing this for 10-15 years, and the family and their friends who mostly supervise the picking and load the trucks and things.  There are also some old ladies who cook for us.  In the fields altogether I think we are 30 people.  The highlight of these introductions is Zizette.  She will have her own post, but she’s introduced to me as “This is the Zizette.  She’s the mascot.”  As if that’s a totally normal way to introduce someone.

Tate gets the good bed in the girl’s room.  Jif takes me into the boy’s room.  There are two huge beds open, but he points to the only set if bunk beds in there and says “I think that’s the best for you.”  Tallest dude at vendange gets the bottom bunk.  Sweet.

People are pretty confused as to why I am here.  There are a bunch of business school students who have heard of both BCG and private equity.  What the hell am I doing working vendange?  This is a good question.  Additionally, Tate is referring to me exclusively as her “friend.”  This confuses the shit out of French people all week.  It turns out that our impression of the French in America of being progressive or sexually liberal or whatever it is we think is totally wrong.  The French are conservative and really boring.  It’s like the whole country is stuck with Junior High School social customs.  Everyone is very gossipy.  Everyone wears conservative clothes.  Everyone has cliques and if you are not in this one then I will not be friendly to you.  More on that later.  But this conservativeness means that traveling to Europe with a friend of the opposite sex, then going to a wedding with him, then traveling to Spain with him is highly unusual and possibly inappropriate behavior.  I mean every young French person I have met has been in a relationship for like 5 years.

The first dinner is awesome and we had a lot of champagne so off to a good start.  The 7:20AM start time is ominous, but Day 1 was pretty easy.  Met everyone, drank some champagne, a great dinner.  This should be easy.

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Rosa

In Paris I am staying at Tate’s cousin’s apartment.  His name is Max and he is getting married.  He is back on the farm preparing for the wedding so his apartment is free.  It’s a nice apartment.  High floor.  One-bedroom.  That’s the issue, really, is that the one bedroom is occupied by a Mexican who I will refer to as Rosa.  Rosa works for Cartier and Tate’s theory is that she really wants to be French.  I don’t agree, I actually think Rosa just doesn’t identify with Mexican values anymore.  She has recently surprised herself and her friends with the discovery that sex is important for relationships and general well-being.  She is currently on the hunt for a pair of remote control vibrating underpants that she saw in a Katherine Heigl movie.  She seems positively thrilled in this pursuit.  She has a feeling like that feeling of first getting to college – I can do anything I want and what I choose to do will define who I am.  Rosa is no longer defined by Mexican social mores, she’s defined by vibrating underpants.

Rosa is a bit of a character.  A couple of funny things.  First, she told the Paris Cartier people that she was in town for a wedding and they arranged a big meeting for her.  Rosa is responsible for like all the Cartier watches in Mexico or something.  So there are like product people, marketing people, etc.  Something like 20 people for this meeting just for her.  She is excited.  She needs lots of advice from Tate about what to wear (more on this later).  She shows up 45 minutes late to this meeting.  When she recounts this, I am a bit incredulous.  As much as I had to hear about this meeting the night before, how special it was, how special a person she must be to have this arranged for her, why show up 45 minutes late?  Well, she’s Latin, and there’s an expectation that Latin people are late to meetings.  So it’s fine.  Frankly, what she really wants to let us know is that she saw her old boss.  She was with her new Paris Cartier friends, looking like “a little Salma Hayek” (literally her words), and she “knew he had wanted to fuck her” before, so this was a triumphant moment for her.  To me the day sounded like a disaster, but to her it was a big win.

Ok, on the clothes.  Tate thinks Rosa’s clothes are hilarious but they make a lot of sense to me.  Basically, Rosa has an entire huge suitcase full of clothes, but every single item is made out of soft t-shirt material and is brightly colored.  To me, it’s like, duh, comfortable and bright colors, who doesn’t love that?  But apparently that’s not very fashionable.  I guess the lack of variety is odd.  But I know what to get at Christmas if my sons date Mexican girls and I need a present.

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Arrival

Thank you Zanex for allowing for pleasant flights across the Atlantic.  I got off the plane a little groggy for a short layover in Frankfurt on the way to Paris and immediately purchased the smallest bottle of water I have ever seen.  3.5 Euros.  $4.65.  Oh, hey Europe.

When I find myself slightly bewildered in a foreign place such as the Frankfurt airport, I often ask myself this grounding question: what would Jeff Gordon do?  Clearly Jeff Gordon would get the sausage and pretzel combo for 3.99.  Thanks, Jeff.

In most cities it is pretty straightforward to get from a major capital airport to the capital city.  You put some money or card into a machine, it gives you a ticket, and you get on a train.  At Charles de Gaulle, the train is closed.  There’s no explanation, there’s just this big banner blocking off the turnstyles that probably says “closed” or maybe “fuck you.”  I ask some dude how to get to Gare du Nord (forgetting that I should mention Paris, as Gare du Nord just means “North Station”).  He points at a bus and says “Mitry.”  I assume this is just French for “Paris” so I get on the bus.  Clearly what happened was that the train workers went on strike (but first they made a big banner that said “fuck you”), and CDG airport had to round up some buses and drunk, angry homeless people to drive them.  Or at least that’s what I assume based on how the bus driver is throwing us around on our way to God knows where.  Having way too much luggage, I am in the middle of the bus with nothing to hold onto.  I am flying all over the place.  I feel better as we appear to be getting on the highway.  Maybe we are going to Paris and it will be a steadier ride.  Nope, we veer off the highway at the first exit and start driving through an industrial area.  I am starting to realize why the French get a bad rap for smelling.  I definitely smell some BO, but worse it’s clear that the French just fart whenever they damn well please.  And I can only assume that a diet of snails and cheese makes you fart a lot.  Thank god the bus emerges from Industrial Zone 7 and miraculously there is a train station (Mitry).  Yay.

I get to Paris with this plan: meet Tate somewhere in the Gare du Nord train station.  According to the Mission T-Mobile store guy, who I would trust with my life, my phone will work in France.  False.  Now the plan to meet “somewhere in the Gare du Nord train station” seems foolish.  As I remember, it’s pretty big.  Sure enough, I get there and it’s not only very big, with multiple levels, but there’s really no obvious meeting place.  I wander around for a while, randomly jamming my credit card into phones unsuccessfully, until I literally run into Tate.  It turns out that it’s fine that it took 45 extra minutes to get to Gare du Nord because Tate is 45 minutes late.  “It’s better to be lucky than have a reasonable plan,” I think to myself.  That turns out to be foreshadowing for the rest of the trip.

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