"Do you have any women made out of balsa wood that can be picked up without any effort whatsoever?"

"Ask at the front desk, sir."

Sunday night: the place has emptied out. I think the big Indian Wedding had decamped. Folks headed home to start the work week, even thought it’s more expensive to leave on the weekend. We were still here, of course, and so we had to decide what diversion would end the night. The app said there was a comedy and music show at the Lobby bar, and while that sounded fun! it could also mean you were the only people with a frozen smile, fixed in place by some strange obligation. You’re here, you wanted to see a show, and you can’t leave because it would be mean.

As it turned out, there was no such show. But it was casino night! You get three hundred dollars in this convincing currency:

It's one of those things that tells you what the world looks like to illiterates.

Zakroma of Rodina? As in, Motherland?

Blackjack was the game. We were down $200 when the emcee abruptly ended it all and said it would soon be time for the exciting something-or-other. The dealer took our chips and gave us a check for $17,000. Uh - okay? Didn’t win that much, I understand there’s an auction. What do I do with this?

"Take it over there," she said, "and exchange for a bottle of tequila."

Really! Well, okay then. We walked towards the stage. Another young fellow involved in this event - another POP!, you know, the People of Palladium - ran up to us, asked to look at the check, said the cashier had made a mistake, and he would be right back. He returned with a check in the amount of $14,000.

“We can’t have two checks for $17,” I think he said. Well, this is all very much above-board, isn’t it? Try this in an American casino, brother, and you’ll be in a hole in the desert.

I asked what I was to do with this check. He did not seem to understand the question, whereupon I said I was told to exchange it for a bottle of tequila. He bade us to sit and muttered something I didn’t get. The show begins. Energetic MC who was also the beach yoga coach runs through his opening patter, attempting to figure out where everyone is from. Ergo, Brazil is in the house. Argentina is in the house. I feared he would exhaust all possible countries, and was about to suggest that he begin by asking if people were members of particular continents, and then proceed through regions or perhaps climate to narrow it down.

Then he asked what we were here for, and half the crowd said “Tequila.” We were offered the chance to bid on ugly T-shirt, and were also advised that no change would be provided. If you had a check for $5000, and your winning bid was $1000, you would not get $4000. Consequently no one but a few children bid on anything, expecting that the items would get better or more valuable. They did not. All T-shirts, no tequila. It was all a lie!

Or, a miscommunication. Language barrier and all that.

Or, a lie. The next day the host said hello to my Wife, whom he'd met while leading Beach Yoga, and she asked about the tequila. He said usually there's a bottle to auction, but no one had brought it this time.

Probably the truth. I mean, where are they going to find a bottle of tequila at 9:45 PM.













The transit companies pick you up four hours before your flight so you can’t blame them at all if you don’t make it. I am fine with this. There’s construction around the airport and the traffic can get thick, so sure. Even better, the driver arrived a half an hour early! Wife finished tennis, packed, made it to the front, and we pulled out ten minutes before scheduled departure. O joy! Relaxation and confidence.

“Got your passport?” I joked.

“You have it,” she said.

“I don’t have it,” I said. “I’ve never had it.”

Driver, turn around. Back to the hotel entrance. She looked in her luggage, and there it was. Phew. But. I haven’t been the Keeper of the Documents since we went abroad with Natalie, and I had all the passports in a plastic sleeve with little Post-It notes bearing our initials, different colors, on the passports, staggered so I could see them at a glance.

The Drive took an hour, as it usually does. We checked in - fast - and got through security in a trice, which left us two hours to kill in the Terminal 3. It’s okay. It has all the basics. Why, there’s Cinco Soles, where I buy my Mexican hot sauce. Every trip, a new flavor. Something to spark up the morning eggs. Where to lunch?

I still had the Hamburger Jones, but Sara wanted to sit down in a restaurant instead of fight for a table in the bustling food court, and when she said “that place?” I said sure because I am a good husband and that’s what she wants and that’s that. Just thought it was an odd choice, because we’d passed Wolfgang Puck, and she had chosen . ..



She’s more of a Puck gal, you know? But as she explained - later - she’d seen a movie with her Mom a few months ago and this Fieri guy had been in it and he was interesting and colorful, or something. At the time I said that this was the sort of restaurant where the food is characterized more by adjectives and attitude than anything else, but hey! No doubt I can get a good burger here, too.

The menu was disgusting. I just wanted a fargin’ hamburger, but everything was EXTREME and had DONKEY SAUCE. I do not want mule juice. I do not want two tablespoons of Mac & Cheese ladled on my burger, or an onion ring placed atop it. She ordered the burger; I went with a caesar salad, the complete inversion of the male-female paradigm. The drinks were listed under the heading of SKULL CRUSHERS or something.

When her burger arrived it was nine inches tall. Butter-soaked brioche buns, a mound of lettuce, a bone-cold onion ring, and of course DONKEY SLATHER. The tone of the place was second-tier high-concept franchise, with a Guy-Centric decoration that showed his grinning mug hither and yon in various culinary situations. I should note that I approve of the whole diner / drive-in / dive idea, and I love shiny classic cars with fins and have no truck with those who do not like trucks, and so on. American basics: hoo rah. But this theatical, rococo nonsense is far removed from the source material. While we attempted to eat the ludicrous dishes the screens played excerpts of a TV show where Guy presides over a challenge: the contestants have to make a great sandwich, but are confined by a key limitation: they can only use ingredients found at a grocery store.

When the check arrived the cost was ridiculous, as I knew it would be. Sit-down adds ten dollars to everything. I’d waved off the offer of water because the waitress said it was five dollars. No thanks, I’ll dry swallow. There was a table of four young folk next to us, all of whom had water, drinks, appetizers (VIOLENT WINGS WITH MULE EXCRETION SAUCE) and entrees, and they looked youngish; Sara wondered how they’d react to the bill, which would surely top two-fifty. When it came they seemed a bit confused but not alarmed. Maybe they never cooked and were accustomed to this. It just went on the card.
At the gate, a small dispute. The flight was full - imagine that! - and they were calling for people to check their carry-on. I did not step up and volunteer. Why not? Sara asked. Because I planned ahead and was here well advance of everyone else, so I could be assured of a bin, and so I could control my luggage and not have it dinged and scratched by the Moorlocks heaving things about in the depths, that’s why. That’s why I’m standing off to the side where Main 1 will be called 15 minutes in advance. I have nothing but time, and as such will engage in strategic pre-positioning.

I’d already got the Cinco Soles hot sauce. I’d already made a trip to Starbucks for an Americano, which was a tale in itself. The line was long, and the woman behind me was complaining that there was absolutely no guarantee they’d have what she wanted, a thing she could get in the States, which was: a Chocolate Croissant. Then a Starbucka came out and started pointing where people should go; she made pointed gestures and said “line” over and over, until we realized that we were supposed to follow a series of duct-tape arrows pasted to the floor. It was terribly important that the line should reorient, immediately. It was unclear why.

I got my Americano and went back to the gate and contemplated the Bubba Gump logo for a while.

Then we boarded. Then, the miracle: flight! Then, the long parade of diversions. Then it was over and it was cold.

But for a while it was hot, and I was in another country, minimally attired, standing in the ocean, with the birds and the sun above, and that was absolutely all I wanted, and I had it.

And you know what? That’s just the start.

As you’ll see.


Now two ways to chip in!


Thanks for enduring the travelogue, and I hope it was slightly interesting. See you Monday for the usual stuff in all-new shapes and sizes.




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