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Fun At The Airport

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Yes, we’re back. We hit Indy at around six on Thursday evening, after bidding farewell to our son and Berlin some twenty hours earlier. It seemed almost fitting that it was raining about as hard as it could as I dashed the thirty or so feet to my car from the shuttle bus I’d caught at the terminal out to the long-term lot, where I’d parked.

I quickly realized I was being pelted by small hail as well. By the time I managed to open the door of our red mid-90s Le Sabre, (ubiquitous amongst people beyond a certain age) rip off my coat, and flop down in the front seat, I was soaked pretty much through. I had been overly thorough in cleaning out the car prior to our leaving, so there was really nothing with which to dry my head, face, and hands. I used a couple of those small, travel-sized tissues to daub the rain from my forehead and eyes as best as I could.

I started the car with rain still dripping from my hair and drove over to the exit gate to pay the $70.50 parking fee. (Not bad, I guess, for ten days, right?) I made my way back to the terminal to gather up my wife and our luggage for the final leg of our trip home.

The house smelt a bit musty and was dead still as we entered. Nevertheless, it’s always great after an extended trip away to make your way into your living room, drop whatever you might be lugging, and plop down on the couch with a relieving sigh – to sit with eyes closed, your head reposed on the sofa back uttering “Oh man, we’re home!”

In the couple of days since, I’ve had some time to consider our experience during the ten days spent in Germany. I hope to go into more detail about some of it soon, but for now I’ll just discuss some observations regarding air travel.

If you want to experience what it could be like to live under a police state, fly – anywhere. You’ll get a more in depth experience if you take an international flight, but almost any time spent in a commercial airport will give you a taste of Big Brother.

Frequent travelers probably don’t generally notice much. They know the drill. They carry minimal luggage, perhaps even dress in such a way that the trip through security will take minimal time and effort: slip-on shoes, little or nothing left in pockets, no big belt buckles. They keep their heads down, their mouths shut, and just go with the flow. Since security procedures have evolved fairly slowly since before the millennium, it probably seems to most of these hardy souls just business as usual.

They come to know the venues and the airports (the concourses, the shops, bars and restaurants, the restrooms, and the gates) they haunt on a regular basis. They know the planes and their configurations. If they are fortunate enough to fly business or first class, they know once aboard, the flight will be, well, like flying. If, however, they must travel in coach, they learn where best to choose their seats in the various planes. (I’m told that on some planes it’s best to sit in the emergency exit aisles which may afford more leg room and/or may have only two seats across rather than the usual three. I’m sure there are other tricks of the trade as well.)

For the casual and infrequent traveler, an airport is a foreign, nerve-wracking, and even frightening experience. Once on airport property, the rules of behaviour change. Observing driving, stopping, loading/unloading, and parking rules takes on a heightened importance.

Upon entering the terminal, one becomes aware of a greater regimentation that increases perceptively starting with the lines at the ticket counter, confronting the airline’s agent, schlepping bags up onto the scales, getting boarding passes, making one’s way haltingly from the counter to the proverbial point of no return just prior to entering the security maze, and leaving your unticketed loved ones behind, perhaps never to be seen again.

The whirlwind truly begins at security. Travelers are directed to lines feeding into the various screening devices somewhat reminiscent of checking out at the grocery. Here you are not emptying your grocery cart; rather, you are emptying your pockets and placing your keys, change, glasses, maybe your Ipods, coats, hats, carry-on bags, and yes, your damn shoes into plastic bins which you are instructed to roll forward into the maw of the ex-ray machines.

Meanwhile, you are directed to step through the personal x-ray and “sniffer” which blows an unexpected puff of air over your body and invariably sets off a buzzer or bell of some kind. Officers then direct these hapless souls to step aside and stand arms raised for a wand sweep up and down their bodies, hesitating, hovering when and where the thing beeps. Unusual or unexpected beeps result in the offending souls being directed to a small screened-off area of some sort wherein they may be directed to drop their trousers, as I was, revealing the braces for my arthritic knees, which I had forgotten to remove prior to entering security.

Because I have sleep apnea, I carry with me what is known as a CPAP machine allowed as an extra medical carry-on. This machine always perplexes Transportation Security Agency (TSA) inspectors, who invariably dismantle the damn thing, wiping it down with little explosive trace detecting cloths, leaving it to me to reassemble and replace in the carrying case while I am still juggling all my shit (my other carry-on bag, coat, shoes, change, and keys). I’m also holding up my still unbuttoned pants as inspectors urge me to move on to make way for the next potential hijacker or suicide bomber.

While no one was particularly unpleasant with us (most were and are generally polite and even at times deferential), neither is there much tolerance for confusion, resistance, anger, or even humor. It is expected that everyone simply respond willingly and obediently to each and every direction: “Step forward, please.” “Turn this way.” “Ma’am, Stay behind the red line.” “Raise your arms, sir.” “Drop your arms, sir.” “Don’t move.” “Let’s keep it moving.” We are expected to answer questions briefly and succinctly with no embellishments, no unwanted histrionics, and no unsolicited explanations. This, most will say, is as it should be.

To those who remember the world before 9/11 and before the millennium — a world wherein travelers were looked upon more as guests and valued as job security — the current atmosphere in airports is one in which people are taken to be potential criminals. It’s nearly incomprehensible. Now we are all suspects.

Note also that it is far easier to get out of the country than to get back in. On our trip out, leaving first from Indy and then Newark, the inspections were comparatively cursory. We each had two carry-on bags and only my machine was given any particular scrutiny.

The real challenge came when leaving Berlin. At the counter we were forced to consolidate everything into one carry-on each. Even my wife’s purse, required impromptu, Olympic-level stuffing. Then we ran the gauntlet as described above. Upon landing again in Newark, we were first stopped at immigration. Then we had to retrieve our luggage and schlepp it to another location where they were to be rechecked for the flight to Indy even though it was the same airline we came in on.

On the way to the check-in we were stopped and quizzed by a fellow wanting to know if we had any fruits, vegetables, or seeds with us or in our luggage. We said no. We must not have been convincing enough as we were directed to go through a set of doors to yet another set of scanning machines into which we were further directed to place all of our luggage and other stuff for fruit and veggie scrutiny.

Once again, they opened the bag with my CPAP machine, presumably expecting to find broccoli or pomegranates in it. Not until we were sitting in our living room did I feel we could no longer fear someone snooping through our belongings. I should add that with all this, we didn’t suffer any long delays, missed flights, or even lost luggage. Everything from that standpoint was essentially normal.

I worked for the now defunct TWA back in 1969/70. It was a far different world. During my tenure there, the first American passenger plane was hijacked to Cuba. Say what? Little did we know. The first couple of months of my employment were spent on the ramp loading and unloading bags, mail, freight, and so on. On a few occasions I got some overtime by staying to clean the interior of planes parked for the night. At that time, anyone could have boarded one of them. On more than one occasion I sat in the cockpit and played pilot. I did have the sense not to flip any switches or push any buttons, but still.

Back then an airport was a pleasant, welcoming, and even prestigious place to go. Airlines competed for business and treated people traditionally as customers – people paying for and expecting deferential service. Flying could be a white-knuckle experience for some, then as now, but every effort was made to put nervous flyers at ease. Stewardesses graduated from smile school. They always sported pleasant, if at times toothy, grins across their invariably pert, blemishless faces. Flying was the safest way to fly.

’Tis a far different world we now find ourselves in. A large thank you goes out to Osama, George, and the rest of the gang.

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About Baritone

  • http://drdreadful.blogspot.com Dr Dreadful

    I fly quite a bit and pretty much all of what you say is spot on. You forgot to mention that some (by no means all) TSA screeners are little Hitlers who have landed their dream job of making your life a misery and for whom 9/11 was therefore like Christmas and all their birthdays rolled into one nasty little package.

    Airports certainly are bewildering, especially if you’re flying internationally from one of the major hubs. I find, though, that if you arrive early enough and just keep a stiff upper lip through the preliminaries, once you do finally get farted out the other side of security and all you have to do is make your way to your gate, things can get quite tranquil.

    A well-designed modern airport helps greatly in this. Portland (OR) and San Francisco (the international terminal) are good examples. London Heathrow, LAX and Chicago O’Hare are not.

  • http://www.rapturenutballs.blogspot.com Baritone

    Doc,

    I’m sure you are correct about some of the TSA people. We’ve had a few who were apparently enjoying other people’s discomfort.

    Again, I assume that more seasoned flyers are more attuned to avoiding hang-ups, but I suppose that if you run into one of the security people with a hair up their ass you’re toast no matter what.

    As I noted in an earlier post, I was extremely uncomfortable on the flight from Newark to Berlin, unable to get even remotely comfortable, getting virtually no sleep. Oddly, on the return leg from Berlin to Newark I did in fact manage to sleep perhaps as long as an hour and a half or so. I bought one of those inflatable neck pillows in Berlin which actually seemed to help.

    Still, flying – especially for the rare or occasional traveler – is a challenge at best.

    I long for the good old days when, as a TWA employee, I could fly anywhere in the states for about six bucks. For an additional eight to ten dollars I could fly 1st class. It was standby, of course, but I never missed a flight because of it. I didn’t work for them long enough to earn international flight priviledges, but I toodled around to NYC and Denver a couple of times and even got my parents tickets to Vegas and back.

    The new BA terminal at Heathrow has certainly worked out well for them so far. They must have used the Denver model in their design.

    I did like both the Vienna and Amsterdam airports when we flew just prior to the millenium. The Amsterdam airport is huge – really spread out, but it was very modern, and, of course, spacious.

    I think our next trip will be relatively short, down to Florida to visit our other son, perhaps in May. That shouldn’t be to rough.

    B-tone

  • bliffle

    I’ve been traveling regularly since the 60s (ah! the 60s and 70s were a paradise of travel! We always wore suits and ties and reclined in comfortable seats. And the cost was moderate: coast-coast for $200 RT, SF to LA for $12.50, $10 on the turboprop Electra which took 15 minutes longer). It was the deregulation of the 80s that caused me to hope I’d never have to fly again. Alas! I married a European!

    In the last few years the USA airlines have forfeited their position as The Best Airlines. Without even a look back.

  • http://www.rapturenutballs.blogspot.com Baritone

    Blif,

    Yeah. When I was with T-Dub the fare to NYC from Indy was $42.50 one way tourist or “y” class. (Why do I remember that?) I guess at the time that wasn’t cheap, but it was doable. Fares were constructed in such a way that they made sense. Upgrading to 1st class again was not cheap but the difference was nothing like it is today. It cost my wife and I just over a thousand bucks to fly from Indy to Berlin and back. First class tickets for the same flight could have been as much as eight grand, perhaps more.

    While in Berlin we watched a lot of International CNN. They ran adds for Singapore Airlines. They have a suite available on the new A380 which includes not only a large seat, but a separate bed in a private room. I can’t imagine what that costs. That would eclipse normal 1st class by a bunch, I’m sure. Of course, each A380 has its own zip code. Sheesh!

    B-tone

  • http://drdreadful.blogspot.com Dr Dreadful

    Bliffle,

    Yes, US airlines do suck nowadays compared to their international competitors. I fly from California to London on quite a regular basis (at least once a year on average) and given the choice, always go for Virgin or BA over an American carrier even if it costs a little more, which is seldom.

    It was when American, United and their ilk decided they wanted to be Southwest with knobs on and make you pay for food, booze and even the stupid headset to watch the in-flight movie (having already forked out God knows what for your damn ticket) and, as you say, didn’t even seem to care that was the final straw.

    Fortunately, there does seem to be this new model, started by JetBlue and now joined by Virgin America, of budget travel without treating passengers like a truckload of battery hens, which the big five airlines hopefully are paying attention to.

    The new Open Skies agreement may up the stakes even more in this area, especially if the ‘blue riband’ airlines like Emirates, Cathay Pacific and Singapore Airlines start flying the transatlantic routes.

  • http://drdreadful.blogspot.com Dr Dreadful

    B-Tone,

    Singapore Airlines has already had to slap a ban on sex in its A380 suites, because while they do offer some degree of privacy the walls are rather… er… thin.

  • Dan

    I flew 6 consecutive bi-weekly roundtrips from indy to vegas to bet on football games last year. With frequent flyer bonuses on SouthWest, it only cost $176 per commute.

    I always take the furthest back window seat on the left side of the plane. The engines are a little noisy, but it’s the only seat that has a flat wall panel to lean your head against.

    On that fateful day of 9-11, I was actually about half way to indy airport. Scheduled to fly to Vegas. We were in the good mood that goes with anticipation of adventure. During a lull in conversation we flipped on the radio and heard the report. Knew right away we wouldn’t be flying that day, so we turned around and headed back.

    Also knew then that easy access to airplanes would be a thing of the past. I only blame the terrorists though.

    For all the hassle, I still like to fly. I think it’s worth a good chunk of the fare just to look out the window. You can see 350 miles to the horizon. If you’re wearing a watch and line up the wing with those square mile swatches, you can calculate air speed fairly accurately. The Grand Canyon is spectacular in the daytime, and arriving or departing Las Vegas at night is also way cool. Especially if the pilot makes a broad sweep around the city to line up for the runway.

    Fellow passengers antics can sometimes go overboard on the way to Vegas, but they’re much more subdued on return flights.

  • http://drdreadful.blogspot.com Dr Dreadful

    Dan,

    I also love the window seat for the very reasons you mention. I take great care, if possible, to make sure it isn’t over the wing though. Although I must point out that that seat at the very back isn’t a great idea if the plane has engines mounted at the rear of the fuselage (like the MD-80)!

    On long-haul flights, though, an aisle or exit row seat is preferable if you’re flying in coach, because you can at least stretch your legs out a bit and get up whenever you want without having to dislodge your neighbors. You miss out on the view, but really it’s just ocean for most of the way anyway so ten hours wedged up against the wall of the cabin just isn’t worth it.

  • Dan

    Yeah Dread, I think those planes are MD-80’s. It is loud back there. I sleep with a fan at home though, so I guess I’m kind of used to it.

    I can sure see your point about the aisle for long hauls. I can’t even conceive of a ten hour flight. Although it might have been like the hell of a 26 hour Greyhound bus ride I was once caught up in.

  • http://drdreadful.blogspot.com Dr Dreadful

    At least on a Greyhound they stop and let you get off to pee every so often…

    The longest flight I’ve been on was 14½ hours, Sydney to LAX. Strangely, that one didn’t drag the way some of my San Fran-London trips have. And Qantas in-flight service ain’t all that either. [shrug]

  • Bennett

    “slap a ban on sex in its A380 suites”

    Ah, the folks at Singapore Airlines haven’t read Palahniuk’s “Choke”, in which you find out what really goes on in airplane bathrooms, while “in flight”.

    Worth reading, flights will never be the same.

  • http://www.rapturenutballs.blogspot.com Baritone

    Doc,

    That’s great! LOL.

    When I was in the Army, I spent New Years Eve, 1966, and New Years Day 1967 on a train from Indy to Waco, Texas. The trip to Waco took about 31 hours, plus another couple on a bus down to Killeen, TX & Ft. Hood. It’s good I was young.

    As I noted in an earlier post, I much prefer aisle seats owing to my claustrophobic tendancies. Anyhow, craning my neck to look out the window usually gives me a headache.

    I think I would enjoy a long train trip if I had a sleeper or private berth. Otherwise, though, travel by almost any means has become difficult owing to greater costs, greater numbers, heightened security and a myriad of other factors.

    I remember a couple of years ago driving in the center lane of the autobahn in Germany in a Ford Focus Wagon completely encircled front & rear, side to side by large semis. Not just a little intimidating. Of course, there are even more trucks on America’s highways.

    Bus trips of anything more than a couple of hours are generally the pits. I’ve never taken a cruise. The longest boat trip I’ve been on was the ferry across the Straits of Mackinaw before they built the bridge. That hardly counts as a cruise.

    If my knees weren’t bad, I’d just walk.

    B-tone

  • bliffle

    I fly to Paris on Air France only, because I enjoy the food. And the wine is better. I walk up and down the aisle to avoid DVT. All the way. 12 hours of walking. Not bad. Even in the rare case i don’t get an aisle seat someone will soon surrender one to me to avoid the nuisance of me stumbling over them when they’re sleeping.

  • http://www.futonreport.net/ Matthew T. Sussman

    “Note also that it is far easier to get out of the country than to get back in.”

    Really?

    I’m almost always questioned at customs in Canada and Ireland on my to-there flight. Hardly a question on the way back to the US.

  • Bennett

    Also, ear plugs (if you can handle them) are great for cutting off the high frequencies of the engines. Makes for a much calmer flight.

    Jet Blue has been very good to me from VT to SF. The BTV to Kennedy leg is a bit of a joke, but from there to CA is a breeze.

    I agree with scoring the emergency exit seats, much better leg room.

  • http://www.rapturenutballs.blogspot.com Baritone

    Matthew,

    Your experience is just the opposite of ours. Both Berlin and Newark were very difficult to navigate for our return trip. As I described in my article, we got bumped around like a pinball with repeated inspections and questions. I guess my wife and I have a particularly nefarious look to us.

    B-tone

  • STM

    I can empathise Baritone, but you blokes don’t know how good you’ve got it.

    How about this: leave Queluz outside Lisbon by cab at 9.30am on a Thursday.

    Arrive Lisbon, flight to Frankfurt delayed. Stinking hot day, forget to remove water bottle from cabin baggage; whilst chugging it down engaged in conversation by portuguese security guard fascinated by Australia, when all I want to do is collapse. His supervisor decides to double check my bags just in case and am the last on board.

    Arrive Frankfurt late afternoon, forced to spend five hours waiting for Qantas flight to Sydney via Singapore. When you are talking long-haul, only the flight to Auckland is longer.

    Eat dinner of German sausages and bread rolls at cafe, head to Qantas check-in about 9pm in plenty of time only to see a queue about seven miles long snaking around the terminal.

    The worst part: it’s not moving. At all. And I’m at the end of it.

    After two hours, Qantas ground staff come around with bottled water and a note: “You may or may not be aware that tonight’s flight to Sydney is cancelled because of engine problems”. A new Rolls-Royce engine has to be flown all the way from Sydney (what, a 24-hour trip?) and since Qantas is now the world-leader in packing in passengers for maximum profit on their long-haul 747s, there’s no way they’re going to do this in their own time rather than ours.

    We remain in the queue, as asked, until nearly midnight, when we are told that Qantas will put us up at the airport Sheraton and feed us dinner! Great … German food for free!

    Next day, after a German breakfast, discover that we don’t have to check out until MUCH later in the afternoon as the plane still isn’t ready. Have two more free German meals, and feel like I’m walking around with a block of concrete in my stomach.

    Ring my wife and kids in Sydney thanks to Qantas’ offer of a free 10-minute phone call to Australia. Somehow, the Sheraton thinks this means a 10-euro phone call, so I get stung for another 40 euros and spend hours arguing with Qantas ground staff. At least it passes the time and I get to vent.

    Eat German supper as the plane is still running late. Develop a new appreciation for noodles and stroganoff.

    It’s now 9pm Friday. Finally check-in. Need a leak and a coffee and a smoke, so head out through the lounge exit and have to return through the three security checks again. Once again, the buzzer goes off and I have to remove belt, shoes and sunnies. Still waiting, though, and there’s a terror scare at Frankfurt in the very terminal we’re in!

    Shuttled out to tarmac and aircraft finally takes off about 11pm.

    Arrive Singapore after 12-hour flight, hoping for quick (8-9 hour, so it depends on your perspective) onward journey after the usual two-hour layover. No such luck.

    So late leaving Frankfurt, that we can’t make the overnight take-off and landing curfew at Sydney international.

    Now stuck in a hotel in Singapore at the expense of Qantas. Get great buffet dinner and eat everything on the menu except the strange-looking, dark coloured meat that all the locals are going for.

    Leave Singapore that night, arrive Sydney 8am Sunday.

    Happy to be home, but abused by officious Australian Customs official for stepping the wrong way to the exit lane after he’s looked at my passport, stared me in the eye like Clint Eastwood, grunted at me, and yelled out: “Oi! Oi!. You! That way!”

    Yep. Welcome home!

    Go to baggage claim, where senior, roving Customs officer asks for my passport and grills me at length about where I’ve been and what I’ve been doing. He’s looking directly at my red eyes, which now look like piss-holes in snow.

    “Fair dinkum, mate, are you serious? Where have I f..king been? Stuck between here and Lisbon and every stop on the way for four f..king days, mate, that’s f..king where. What about you?”

    Another officer brings a dog that sniffs my bags, but it’s probably put off by four days’ worth of scungy undies. No drugs though. Free!

    I could have told them that. Of course … that’d it, I haven’t had a haircut for six months. The Silver Surfer’s law-enforcement magnet strikes again.

    Stopped again at Quarantine to make sure I’m not bringing in any new and exotic diseases into the great southern land. Could probably think of a few new words though.

    Decide to catch the subway train home, which is running late, and half way there, as we get on the Harbour Bridge, it starts pissing down so hard water’s coming in through the doors and I get soaked at my stop running to the cab rank with my bags.

    At my joint, pay driver but leave one bag in cab. Chase driver up the road, flailing arms and shrieking like a banshee. He looks in his rearview mirror, hesitates, then returns. Get back bag.

    Walk in the front door to find that my wife has already left for work, and my daughter is watching the music video channels and blasting the neighbourhood with a solid wall of sound, and wonders if I could make her some breakfast, and have I got presents?

    Only the dog seems to understand that I’ve just made an epic four-day trip home, and avoids me completely.

    This is what happens when you live at the arse-end of the Earth.

    One of my mates cleverly reckons you don’t need to go on holidays when you live in Australia, and never leaves the place. He just gets up in the morning, walks across the road to the beach, gets a coffee at the cafe, sits on the bench on the promenade in the warn morning sun, has a surf, goes home, does a bit of work, has a nap, does a bit more work, has another surf, has dinner, then goes to the pub.

    He’s right.

  • http://www.rapturenutballs.blogspot.com Baritone

    Stan,

    You’ve clearly got all of us beat with that one. I suppose anyone who has more than stuck his or her nose out their front door has some kind of travel horror story to tell. Sometimes it’s nobody’s fault, on other occasions it’s everybody’s.

    I guess what I was recounting in my article is pretty much business as usual. As I stated, there were no particular delays – we did leave the gate at Newark on the way to Berlin something like 30th in line, but that’s pretty much normal. We encountered some very rough air between Berlin and Newark coming back – again fairly normal.

    The point being, that travel, perhaps air travel in particular, can be and often is an uncomfortable, frustrating, time consuming and an occasionally harrowing experience. And in all of the above described incidents, no one died. No one had to resort to cannibalism. Essentially, nobody got hurt – physically at any rate.

    Traveling in even the best of times and circumstances can be difficult. Many of us are of a mind set that we try our best to make it as much like home as possible. We take little bits and pieces of our homelife, our normal routines with us in an effort to maintain the illusion of normalcy. The fact is, though, that when we set out on a journey – whether it’s to the corner grocery or to the ends of the earth – we are no longer in our element. We are subject to far wider sources of problems and trouble.

    So, why do we do it? Of course, many are forced to take on heavy and regular travel for their jobs. But even there lay a choice. Presumably people who take such employment do so with their eyes open and their bags packed.

    We have traveled to Europe now three times since just before the millenium to visit our son. Had he wound up in NYC or Ogden, Utah, it’s highly doubtful we would ever have left U.S. soil (or airspace.)

    But, on balance, I would say that I am grateful to our son for having been so bold in making his move, first to Vienna, then to Germany. Despite our travel woes – which, Stan, by your account have been a trifle – our exposure to at least some of the larger world has been enlightening and, for the most part, enjoyable.

    In part at least we travel for the wonder of it.

    B-tone

  • http://ruvysroost.blogspot.com Ruvy in Jerusalem

    Baritone,

    I’ve bookmarked this article, and sent it to myself as an e-mail, to be read, just in case I get the stupid idea in my head of visiting the United States, and find we have the money for it.

    I’ll force feed this down my wife’s throat, also.

    You’ve definitely sold me on staying away from the States. We’ve had far worse terror that 9/11 and security at ben-Gurion is nothing like the bull you went through.

    Many years ago, I had to return to St. Paul after doing what I could to settle my mother’s affairs after she passed away. It turned out that I was flying the same day as the Superbowl, and all of Northwest’s planes were gone to the left coast to handle the passenger load.

    Me and my seven stuffed suitcases were all alone and had to make it to a hotel room to eat and sleep at Northwest’s expense. At least I didn’t have to eat German food.

    I won’t comment on the quality of the airlines. No comment is necessary.

    Glad you got back to the States safely, Baritone.

  • http://www.rapturenutballs.blogspot.com Baritone

    Ruvy,

    Now, now. Let’s not disparage German food. True, it can be very heavy, but I must say that we had some really great meals. On balance, I’d say that the food we had some years ago in Vienna was superior to that we’ve had in Germany.

    The Vienese seem to have mastered a wide variety of soups. I’m a “soup” kinda guy. A restaurant more or less across the street from the Vienna Rathaus (city hall,) Landtmans, I believe it is called, made a number of truly great soups including a kind of cream borscht that was, in my estimation, unbelievable.

    But, a few days ago I was sitting in a quaint little place in the midst of a German forest eating wild boar steak. It was fabulous.

    Also, in Germany last week I had a carrot/ginger soup that was truly great.

    In my piece I didn’t mean to disparage the U.S. particularly, but, at least in our experience, we have had the most difficulty on our return trips. They were totally sticklers in Berlin before starting our first leg of the journey home – then in Newark it just went over the top.

    At the end of a nearly 9 hour flight, most people are typically exhausted, yet are still faced with huge hassles, a gauntlet of screenings, just in the effort to get back to hearth and home.

    There are those who say, perhaps rightly, that we should be thankful for the heightened scrutiny. But it’s difficult to be appreciative when tired, sore and being kicked about like a ball in a rugby scrum. One can only shake his or her head at the manner in which all this has evolved. At the base of it is greed, stupidity and lust for power, for which the majority of us must in some respects accept responsibility and concomitantly grudgingly accept the results of it as manifested in the policing of travelers.

    B-tone

  • http://ruvysroost.blogspot.com Ruvy in Jerusalem

    Baritone,

    I’m willing to bet that you don’t look anything like the typical suicide bomber might look – unless indeed you look like an Arab.

    I know that I do not fit the physical appearance of a suicide bomber (I look like a Russian), but a lot of my neighbors do. They are either from or the children of Jews from places like India, Tunisia, Iraq, Egypt, Morocco, Tangiers, and even France. I think you get the idea.

    Of course, if I open my big trap and start jabbering in Hebrew, they’d grab me right quick into some side room for some real close questioning. When I talk Hebrew, I sound like a MizraHi Jew – those folks I described in the last para – and use the gutteral Arab type pronunciations that differentiate between the Hebrew K and Q, for example.

    But Americans don’t do profiling (it might “discriminate” against the “people” who do the terror – how racist!), so even old guys like you have to go through a load of bullshit.

    My views on civil liberties have changed since getting here. Maybe you can guess why….

    From what you describe of German food, I wouldn’t be caught dead touching the stuff. Boar is not kosher, and G-d only knows what goes into the sausages Germans are always ladling into their plates.

    A good German beer (not a bier) would be nice, though. Drank a lot of that in Minnesota….

  • bliffle

    Sometimes exit-row seats don’t recline (to avoid blocking the rearward row which may be part of the Exit row). Bulkhead seats sometimes have less footroom because there’s no underseat footroom.

    Noise-canceling full-cup headphones are a must: I carry two pair. And my handy old Palm has a few hours of music that represents the quintessence of good music. My laptop, in the overhead, contains more of that music as well as some videos and movies in my viewing backlog.

  • http://www.rapturenutballs.blogspot.com Baritone

    Ah, yes, I was forgetting your particular culinary sensibilities. Sorry about that. Fortunately, I have no such limitations.

    At one point, just as we were reassembling ourselves, I believe in Newark on the way out, my wife was disturbed to see security “wanding” an elderly, white haired woman who couldn’t have weighed 90 pounds. She apparently was not a regular flyer and seemed quite upset. She kept setting the damn thing off and they wouldn’t let her pass until they figured out what was setting it off. I think it may actually have been a hip replacement or some such. She was still being scrutinized as we went on our way having been cleared to proceed to the gate area. I felt for her, but was more relieved to be through security ourselves. There was little we could have done on her behalf in any case. Who knows? Maybe she was loaded with C4.

    Yes, I had a few good German beers. One particularly good one was a really dark brew, that actually was pleasantly mild. I’m not much of a beer drinker, but that was a good one.

    B-tone

  • http://drdreadful.blogspot.com Dr Dreadful

    I certainly can’t beat Stan’s four-day ordeal, although he should probably be thankful that this is no longer the age of ocean travel, or it would have taken him about six weeks to get home!

    The closest I can get to that is the trip I, my wife and my sister-in-law took to Brazil and Argentina in November ’06. We weren’t aware at the time that the Brazilian air traffic controllers were working to rule following the collision between a Gol 737 and an American executive jet over the Amazon. Suspicion for who was to blame was falling on the controllers, and they were in flat-out damage limitation to make it seem that they were overworked rather than negligent. Consequently, they were only allowing one flight at a time to be in a particular section of airspace – including those around airports. So takeoffs and landings were being horrendously delayed. Our flight was two hours late arriving in Miami and another two hours late leaving, so we got to Sao Paulo at 8 p.m. instead of mid-afternoon – only to discover that we hadn’t missed our connecting flight to Rio de Janeiro after all because not only had the plane not arrived yet but no-one knew when it would be allowed to take off again when it did.

    Five hours in Sao Paulo airport were followed by another hour on the plane while the ground crew repaired an overhead luggage bin that was apparently about to crush some of the passengers. We eventually landed in Rio at 3 a.m. only to find that our hotel transfer driver had given up and gone home hours ago. Of course we had no Brazilian money yet so there followed an extensive search for the only ATM in the entire arrivals terminal before we were able to pay for a cab.

    It wasn’t until after 4 a.m. that we reached our hotel – which fortunately did have a night receptionist – and discovered that our city tour would pick us up at eight. There are therefore numerous photos of one or other of us sleeping on the bus at various Rio attractions.

    Later in the trip there was that whole hilarious travel-agent-forgetting-to-confirm-our-domestic-flights-in-Argentina incident, but that’s another story.

  • http://drdreadful.blogspot.com Dr Dreadful

    Ruvy,

    A friend of mine has been to Israel several times, and the way she describes the El Al security screening, I reckon the recruitment interview for Mossad is probably less rigorous!

    She said that the last time she went (Spring ’07) things were a bit more relaxed, although I think she flew with BA that time.

    As you observe, Israel has far more experience with terrorism than the US does, and consequently the airport security process runs much more smoothly. It’s probably just as rigorous, but more discreet.

  • http://www.rapturenutballs.blogspot.com Baritone

    The only other particularly interesting tale I can share regarding travel was what we came to remember as the “flight from hell” we took from Indy to Panama City, FL several years ago during which my older son threw up the entire way. We actually had to have him hospitalized in Panama City as he was so dehydrated that he was beginning to convulse. To add insult to injury, the car rental place never heard of us, and owing to some other financial woes we were undergoing at the time, no one would rent us a car without financial clearance. At that time we had no credit cards, so we were essentially persona non-grata to about everyone.

    Our son recovered, and we eventually did get a rental car, but that was a great beginning to a long awaited vacation trip.

    B-tone

  • bliffle

    I confess that I prefer food that is appealing, tasty, nutritious and not bilious. It’s a weakness of mine.

    “Ah, yes, I was forgetting your particular culinary sensibilities. Sorry about that. Fortunately, I have no such limitations. ”

  • STM

    Actually, the one German food that I don’t mind (apart from the schnitzel), is the cooked sausage (usually simmered in hot water) that Germans snack on with bread rolls, mustard and beer.

    I don’t mind a nice bratwurst on a bread roll with a bit of onion like the ones you get at the Sydney Royal Easter Show, either. Even though they cost 20 times more than you’d pay for them elsewhere, and that’s after you’ve paid $100 for show rides, $5 shave-ice cups (ice, with a bit of lavouring – I reckon that’s a 1000 per cent profit at least), and the kids still want more.

    The Viennese sausage stand there gets a fair workout, and so it should ’cause it’s bloody good.

  • http://www.rapturenutballs.blogspot.com Baritone

    Stan,

    I tend to think that ethnic foods served outside their homelands are often bastardized in some way or other.

    Most of the food we had while in Germany was not generally typical of what German restaurants sell in other countries. Certainly, one can find schnitzel and sauerbratten in Germany, but only once did I have schnitzel during our stay.

    I actually find German breakfasts interesting. Rarely do they have anything like typical American fare. They do eat eggs, but usually just boiled – soft or hard. Otherwise, they often lay out a variety of meats – sausages – (I really liked blood sausage,) and breads. German breads are generally really great. They may serve sweet rolls, but they are generally not nearly so sweet as those in the states.

    On a couple of occasions we ate Turkish Doner and Arab Falafel. But usually we ate at a variety of domestic restaurants. There are some damn good cooks working in Germany. Keep in mind that Berlin in particular is a very modern city – mainly, I suppose, owing to the fact that it was nearly decimated during the war, and a lot of new building has taken place in the east since the wall came down.

    Oh, and, yeah, they make some really great deserts.

    B-tone

  • STM

    Actually Baritone, I don’t mind typical German food on occasion … just not four meals in a row served up at the Sheraton on the cheap economy-class budget reserved for stuck Qantas passengers!

    Heck, I even shop at Aldi in Australia because two really big supermarket chains here, Coles and Wooloworths/Safeway (different names for different states but the same mob), have cornered the market.

    I wouldn’t go so far as to accuse them of colluding on price, but geez, they do seem similar and the smaller grocery chains just can’t compete a lot of the time.

    Aldi, however, offers genuine savings, is really good quality stuff, and I buy all my fruit and vegies at the fruit market, mostly fresh local produce and American fruit and nuts out of season (the only imports I will buy, apart from Mexican mangos) to support our brethren on the other side of the Pacific.

    My wife buys meat fresh from the butcher’s, mostly on the day we eat it.

    A lot of Aldi’s stuff here is made in Germany or other parts of western Europe, New Zealand or Australia, so the quality’s excellent and the savings are phenomenal.

    This is how they do it: they go to a well-known, quality manufacturer and ask for the same product but packaged attractively as an Aldi brand. They then buy in bulk and it’s too good for most businesses to pass up, because Aldi is multi-billion-dollar international concern.

    I bought all our packaged-type Christmas goodies from there, including an Australian ham.

    Usually it will cost around $250 for all that, and it came in at under $150 and in my view, was better quality than much of the more expensive Australian-made stuff on offer at Coles and Woolies. On a weekly shop, we’re saving $100.

    So those clever Germans are helping me a) meet the monthly cost of spiralling mortgage interest rates in Oz, and b) putting quality tucker in my cupboards.

  • http://www.rapturenutballs.blogspot.com Baritone

    Stan,

    We shop at Aldi as well. Odd that I haven’t seen you there.

    Both Aldi’s prices and quality are quite good. I don’t particularly recommend their meats and veggies, but most of their pre-packaged foods, staples & such are generally good. We buy their frozen stir fry meals which are much cheaper than similar fare at other area groceries and actually taste far better as well.

    Also, it’s always fun to check out their non-food items they feature, usually toward the rear of the store. Some of it is junk, but a good deal of it appears to be of at least average quality. I’m talking hardware, tools, toys, household items, even some electronics, although I generally avoid the latter of these.

    A feature that Aldi offers is the shopping carts for which you must pay with a coin in a slot to release them, but you get the coin back if you return it to where you got it. They do the same at the German airports for luggage carts.

    In Newark and Indy as well, the same type of cart costs $3.00 and you get nothing back for returning it (so I don’t.) The Germans (and perhaps others) essentially offer the service for one Euro, but return that in reward for courtesy. Not a bad gesture, I’d say.

    B-tone

  • STM

    B-tone: “We shop at Aldi as well. Odd that I haven’t seen you there”.

    Lol. Nice one ….

    You never know though mate, knowing those Germans – one day ther world might be one giant Aldi supermarket.

  • STM

    I was actually there last night buying up some chocolates. I got a whole grab-bag of good stuff from Europe for about $10.

    The man in front of me in the check-out queue was one of your countrymen transplanted Down Under (very common these days, for some reason. Must have something to do with George), and was saying in relation to Aldi that it was nice going to do the groceries without having to hand over at least $200 in folding stuff.

    I do check out the non-food specials when I’m there, but have only ever been able to bring myself to get a screwdriver set – although a couple of my mates reckon the stuff’s OK, and one bought a second TV there on a whim a few years ago and says it’s as good as his other, far more expensive, one.

    I’m like you though – it’s pre-packaged goods mainly. My wife occasionally buys the steak there, and it’s not bad, but like I say, we go to the butcher’s and the fresh-fruit-and-veggie market for the other stuff.

  • http://www.rapturenutballs.blogspot.com Baritone

    Stan,

    I have long been coming to the conclusion that we are not that far away from being obliged to do our banking at “The Bank,” and do our shopping – all of it – at “The Store,” where one would likely find a branch of “The Bank,” which in turn would offer coupons for shopping at “The Store.” Of course “The Store” would cover an area approximately the size of, oh, I don’t know, say Pittsburgh, and would likely include both an in-door version of Disney Land and Las Vegas to boot. It might also include an “Oprah World” as well. The possibilities are endless.

    By the way, you might see an even greater influx of American ex-pats should McCain win in November.
    My wife and I have tossed around the idea of moving to Germany, but I don’t know if I could last for an extended period without air-conditioning, a clothes dryer (my son’s towels had the feel of parchment) and ice in my drinks. I am truly spoiled by creature comforts.

    B-tone

  • http://www.buyingone.com Christopher Rose

    Baritone, I can’t speak about your son’s lifestyle choices but, just for the record, air con, clothes dryers and ice in drinks have been available in Europe for decades.

  • http://www.rapturenutballs.blogspot.com Baritone

    Christopher,

    I can only speak of my experience in Vienna and Germany, but while I don’t doubt they are available, few people avail themselves of them. Clothes dryers and air-conditioning are rare in most German, and presumably Austrian homes owing to the cost to operate them. My sister in-law and her husband took an extended trip through Italy, Germany and Austria – nearly a month – last year. They didn’t travel extravagently, but neither did they scrimp. Only 1 or 2 hotels where they stayed had air-conditioning – this was in August.

    Few restaurants in Vienna or Germany serve ice without prompting, and even then, do so reluctantly. I have been informed in a few places that they have no ice available for drinks. Even a Burger King in Nuebrandenburg had no ice available. Presumably, this is also owing to the cost factor. I have noticed that many Europeans on planes will specifically ask for drinks with NO ice. My son’s girl friend, who is German, can’t stand iced drinks. Some waiters and waitresses will look at you askance if you request simply a glass of water – that is tap water. One place we went to in Berlin for coffee refused to serve us water. We could, of course purchase bottled water.

    Obviously, this is a trivial matter, but it is just one of those cultural differences that one notices when traveling.

    B-tone

  • http://www.buyingone.com Christopher Rose

    Well, it has to be said, in my experience in the European context, at home the Germans and Austrians are special (like the special Olympics, lol).

    Maybe it is something to do with the German climate and culture? In Spain all the expat Germans used aircon and ice just as much as everyone else.

  • http://www.rapturenutballs.blogspot.com Baritone

    Also, it should be noted that neither in Austria nor in Germany can providers use preservatives in packaged foods. I’m not sure if the same applies to things like food colorings or flavor enhancers.

    Maybe we should think about moving to Spain. Actually, a place that really appeals to me is Ireland. Although, I think my main motivation in that regard has to do with calender photos. When it comes down to it, I really know nothing about living in Ireland, but it sure is pretty.

    B-tone

  • http://www.rapturenutballs.blogspot.com Baritone

    Just had to laugh. I opened the May issue of “The Atlantic” randomly to page 12 which has a 2 page spread for British Airways having a beautiful artist’s rendering of their fabulous new terminal at Heathrow with a legend printed in large white letters saying “FEEL CALM AGAIN.” Does anyone at this juncture imagine that “calm” has been restored there?

    B-tone

  • STM

    Lol. Heathrow … calm?? … again?? Bloody hell, I have heard of people missing planes when they had two hours to spare because of hold-ups with baggage that then were compounded by the number of held-up passangers trying to shuttle to other terminals.

    Frequent travellers call it Death Row. When I flew to Europe from Australia last year, I purposely took the less-frequent Qantas flight into Frankfurt rather than the more regular Qantas/BA servive into London, for a connection to Porto, because of the dramas you can always expect at Heathrow.

    I know people who prefer to fly into continental Europe and then into Britain by any other airport than Heathrow after having bags lost, etc.

    And Baritone, if you want to move somewhere out of the madness of the US, this place is the closest thing to the US on the planet, but without most of the bad bits – plus, we DO have airconditioners, washing machines and clothes dryers – although when it’s between 30-45C outside, you don’t really need a clothes dryer. By the time you’ve had a quick swim at the beach and a bit of lunch, your clothes are bone dry :)

    Plus, B-tone, our cars are better, and have their steering wheels on the proper side. Easy to pick up the language too – just go to the pub four Friday nights in a row and what sounds like Swahili after 20 beers soon becomes a new and exciting form of English. Well, kind of …

    Mate, are you sure the Europeans don’t have those creature comfort things you’ve mentioned???? Everywhere I’ve been they do, although I think they probably don’t need aircon in a lot of places. They have central heating instead, don’t they, if I’m not mistaken?

  • STM

    On the bollocks bottled water thing.

    It has become customary at the swankier, trendy restaurants in Sydney for waiters to ask in relation to your water: “Still or sparkling, Sir/madam?”

    I have a friend who invariably replies: “Tap (faucet), thanks”.

  • STM

    And Rosey is right … those Germans/Austrians are certainly a strange bunch, and not just in their own countries.

    I like ‘em, but they are a weird mob.

    When they get up early in Thailand and leave towels on all the beach and pool sunlounges, unlike the polite British, I have no compunction in relation to going down there, throwing them on the ground and pinching the until-then-unused lounges that the Hermans have “reserved”.

    Only one guy complained, and I just told him I only ever saw his towel on the ground and that the lounge was free. The rest just picked up their towels and moved on.

    I mean, how anal do you have to be as a race of people to get up at 6am to reserve a sun lounge, and then go back to bed for three or four hours??

    They are notorious for doing this, by the way.

    Truly bizarre.

  • http://www.rapturenutballs.blogspot.com Baritone

    Of course, the current Heathrow thing relates directly to the new BA terminal where they experienced a luggage cluster fuck that, as far as I know is still ongoing.

    I can’t speak for Europe at large, but I do know that a large number of people in Germany do not have AC. My son’s girl friend’s mother (got that?) lives in Ulm in a very nice, modern, well built spacious home. No AC. Of course Ulm is somewhat nearer the mountains, and perhaps it’s not a particular issue there. But my son claims that few have or use AC or clothes dryers in Germany. He’s been there for over 5 years, so I guess he knows of what he speaks. We’ve only visited in the winter months, so neither my wife, nor I have any direct experience as regards AC.

    Yes, they DO have central heating for the most part. Although, my son did live for a time in an apartment in Halle, a city near Leipzig (and the birthplace of George Fredric Handel) that had two coal stoves as the only source of heat. He had to trek down to the basement at least once a day starting as early as September to stock up on coal with which to provide his heat.

    Of course, some years ago my wife and I lived in an old farm house in rural Indiana having only a wall space heater fired with Liquid Propane. The living room was quite toasty, but the bedrooms were rather icy – especially during a spell of sub-zero (F not C) weather.

    I’m certainly not familiar with the habits of Germanic peoples outside their homeland. I will say that for the most part, most of the people we encountered were friendly and gracious, usually forgiving of our inability to speak their language. Of course, our son was usually present to act as a go between. He is quite fluent in German. He is also a very good ambassador, at least on our behalf. The last few years, owing to his performing successes, he has become a minor celebrity wherever he has been living and working. That helps.

    I must confess that I know little regarding Oz, as I believe you call it. What I have seen and learned – some from you and a few other Aussie bloggers – is quite intriguing. Frankly, I doubt that we will make any major move. Should we feel compelled to do so, though, we would certainly give Oz a look see. As you say, a few pints, and we’d be speaking and understanding things just fine. I don’t know about the driving thing, though. I used to be a hack in NYC. I’m fairly religious about driving and which side is “truly” the right side (that being the left side) for the steering wheel. Some things are sacred, after all.

    Back to Heathrow. Our trip to Germany a couple of years ago took us through Heathrow, and it was and remains my least favorite airport. After landing, we had to wait for around 45 minutes before they taxied to a gate – or so we thought. Actually, they taxied to a spot near a gate. We then had to disembark a few at a time down one of those old style roll around stairs to the tarmac and board a shuttle bus which took us quite far around the terminal to another location, and then we had to walk forever to the gate for the flight to Munich. A Brit who checked us in at a counter to which were were directed en route was friendly until he saw that we were Americans and then for whatever reason became almost openly hostile, claiming that we had little hope of making our connecting flight, and would likely have to stay the night at Heathrow until another flight the next morning. His attitude seemed to reflect that all of this was our fault. As it happened, we hurried along rather frantically to our gate only to find that they hadn’t even begun boarding the flight. We even had time for a coffee, and for my wife to find one of those enclosed smoking areas for a cigarette. I felt like going back and smacking the bastard. Not sure why he got a hair up his butt at us.

    I wonder, do they need any real estate appraisers down your way? Or how about jazz singer wannabes? I do a fair job of scatting ala Mel Torme’. At least my shower tiles seem to like it.

    B-tone

  • STM

    Mate, everyone’s welcome here, as long as the join in the fun and don’t play up.

  • STM

    As for the real-estate business, you’d find plenty of work here, especially in Sydney. Like Americans, Australians are obsessed by private-home ownership (The Great Australian Dream), although things have changed since my parents’ time and in this city, but not so much elsewhere, like Melbourne for instance, affordability is really at a premium.

    Sydney has some of the world’s highest property prices, probably comparable to LA, New York and London when you get right up the rungs with harbour views or beachfront lots. Just a decent three-bed family house in a nice suburb (that’s not a top suburb) won’t leave you much change out of a million bucks.

    I was lucky and bought the kind of place I’d always wanted last year (a full-brick 1930s California bungalow, which were popular here between the world wars) during a bit of a down turn in the market, but not long after I did prices started going up again.

    Interest rates are now really high too (9 per cent), because our economy is so strong and they are trying to discourage us from spending and getting credit to slow it down and cut inflation (which runs about 2 per cent).

    My mortgage is now costing me an extra $500 a month since February 2007 … which is why I dscovered the Aldi shop at the big shopping mall up the street (and mighty glad about it, too).

    As for steering wheels, they SHOULD be on the right-hand side!! You guys drive on the wrong side of the road, and it’s a bugger when I go to a left-hand drive country trying to get my head around switching over.

    Highly stressful, especially at intersections, traffic lights and roundabouts.

  • http://drdreadful.blogspot.com Dr Dreadful

    As I said earlier, Heathrow is not my favourite airport in the world. The only thing I love about it is the glamour of looking up at the departure boards and reading all the flights leaving for exotic places like Mumbai, Marrakech, Singapore, Fresno, Rio de Janeiro, New York, Johannesburg…

    The way to avoid the stress is not necessarily to avoid transiting through Heathrow at all but rather to get there in plenty of time. Sometimes, though, even that doesn’t work, as I discovered on my return journey following my last visit home in December.

    I was staying in Croydon, the suburb of South London where I grew up, which is about 20 miles from Heathrow as the crow flies – which if you know anything at all about London you’ll be aware does not make it conveniently close. There is, however, a direct bus from Croydon to Heathrow which I decided to take because (a) I didn’t want the hassle of lugging my bags onto and off a train and onto and off two tubes, and (b) I’m too cheap to take a cab. The scheduled journey time is about an hour (see what I mean?) and I reckoned that if I caught the 6.30 service I’d be there in plenty of time to catch my 11.00 flight. Unfortunately the bus got caught in a massive traffic jam and then had to take a diversion at the entrance to the airport because of Terminal 5 construction, so I just barely made it to checkin before the one-hour cutoff for hold baggage and, once through Stalag-Luft 7 (BAA security screening) had to dash straight to the gate for boarding.

    All things considered, I’d much rather use Gatwick. Despite being further out, it’s only a 15-minute train ride from Central London, is more modern and much less crowded. Sadly, Virgin stopped their summer direct flights from LGW to SFO some years ago.

  • http://www.rapturenutballs.blogspot.com Baritone

    “Getting there in plenty of time” is pretty much necessary everywhere now. In my days back in ’69 & ’70 working for Tweenie Weenie Airlines it was fairly common to have a passenger dash from the ticket counter, down the concourse to the gate and jumping on the plane as its engines were starting up. A couple of times I was charged with loading a late comer’s bags into the luggage comparment of a 707 with the engines running. That’s a bit unnerving, let me tell you.

    Stan, perhaps someday you and I can mull over the question of right or left hand steering over a few pints at your favorite pub. I’m sure we can work out a suitable conclusion for which the world at large will thank us.

    I must say that, while people who live in more attractive and exotic locations probably wonder why anyone would want to live in a place like Indianapolis, one of the reasons is, as you note, housing prices.

    In the Indianapolis market, the average price for a home is less than $200,000. Indy is one of the most affordable markets in the U.S. There is a home currently on the market here – the former home of the former CEO of Conseco Insurance, Stephen Hilbert – listed at around twenty million. No takers as yet. Former Indiana Pacer, Reggie Miller has his Indy digs on the market for around seven million. Also, no takers.

    Generally, though, even high end homes in this market sell in the 1 to 2 million dollar bracket. I live in what is about a 1500 square foot, 1 level stone ranch style 47 year old home which happily has a full, finished basement, a 2 car attached and 2 car detached garage situated on just over an acre of ground which is currently worth something in the area of $160000. It should be worth more than that, but as many may know, current residential markets throughout much of the U.S. are in a hurt. With a few exceptions, home values are generally going down throughout the country, including much of the Indy market.

    I’ve been appraising residences for over 20 years, and involved in the RE business even longer. In that time I’ve never seen a market like this one. Back in the early 1980s mortgage interest rates went off the charts to highs of as much as 18%. That was an abberation lasting about a year or so which has not been repeated since.

    I can see no quick fix to the current situation. Reducing interest rates as the Fed has and arranging bail outs for banks and other lenders I suppose are helping. But this is a scenario which will just have to play itself out over the next several years as I see it. Doubtless, some lenders will fold and many thousands of homeowners will be forced out into the street as it were. At the same time, the investor wolves are already out in droves, ravenously buying up homes, turning many of them into rentals which will likely hasten the downfall of their respective neighborhoods. It’s not a pretty picture.

    Oh, and Dred, I’m sure Fresno has its exotic aspects. Just the name itself conjours up – well, not much actually, but still.

    B-tone

  • http://ruvysroost.blogspot.com Ruvy in Jerusalem

    Interesting to read these comments – especially that a Burger King in Europe would refuse to serve ice in a drink!

    When I managed a BK, drinks were considered a prime source of income (along with breakfast and fries) and the basic idea was to maximize that income by stuffing every single cup of soda handed out the drive-thru window with ice. When BK in North America still sold drinks individually over the counter, the same strategy was followed.

    I find it interesting that in a water short country like Israel, I can almost always get a glass of tap water in a restaurant for nothing. Naturally, all the restaurants sell bottled water, bur one would have to be a fool to buy bottled water in a restaurant when you can get it cheaper in a shop or mini-market. Nevertheless, “those who know” claim that we are facing a water crisis. With all the other crises we face, I fuess one more can’t hurt….

  • http://drdreadful.blogspot.com Dr Dreadful

    Ruvy, I sussed the restaurants’ ice scam years ago. So if I order a soft drink in a place that doesn’t have free refills, I make sure to say ‘no ice’. The damn drink’s chilled anyway – it doesn’t need it.

  • http://jetfireone.blogspot.com/ Jet in Columbus

    When did Suss become an verb? did I miss a memo from the sports section?

  • http://www.rapturenutballs.blogspot.com Baritone

    Dred,

    If you’re an ice person, the drinks just aren’t the same without it. Unless you gulp them down, they will warm up fairly quickly. Warm Coke! Yew!

    Note also that when getting a soft drink via their dispensers which mix the carbonated water with the syrup, that the balance of water to syrup is calculated (at least in places where ice is normally served in the drinks) to include a certain amount of ice. Getting a drink in such places without ice means that you are getting a drink heavy in syrup, therefore, probably actually sweeter with more sugar and more calories. The same is true of diet drinks except for the sugar and calories. This I learned from my days managing a Long John Silver Seafood Shoppe. Coke, Pepsi and the like don’t leave much to chance.

    Ruvy, you are correct about drinks being a major source of income. At LJS the overall food cost ran around 35% of the price of a meal while drinks were only around 8%. That’s why free refills generally don’t cost restaurants that much. Although, again, I have never found anyplace in Germany that served free refills of anything except, perhaps in some cases, coffee. Even that’s far from a given.

    B-tone

  • http://drdreadful.blogspot.com Dr Dreadful

    Jet, ‘suss’ is an old piece of British police slang that made its way into the general vernacular (or possibly vice versa). It refers to the (now hopefully stamped out) practice of police officers stopping someone on the street ‘on suspicion’. The officer did not have to have reason to believe the person was in the process of committing, had just committed or was about to commit a crime – all he needed was his own intuition that the person was acting suspiciously.

    Naturally, what that meant in practice was that all you had to do to seem ‘suspicious’ was to have dark skin, grow your hair longer than regulation police length or spend longer than 30 seconds in a public restroom.

    Of course, not every use of the ‘suss’ technique was a result of prejudice. I was sussed myself a couple of times when I was a youth, once after been spotted climbing over a fence to get out of a locked park (which had still been open when I went in), and once after stopping in Oxford Street to open the briefcase I was carrying in order to check a map.

    My use of the term was in its more general sense of seeing through some trick or scheme.

  • http://jetfireone.blogspot.com/ Jet in Columbus

    (troan) I can see I’m going to have to start labeling my jokes again, so people know when to laugh….

  • http://drdreadful.blogspot.com Dr Dreadful

    I did get the joke, Jet. (Hi Matt!)

    But I’m a mine of useless information. It frequently leaps unbidden (or in this case, bidden) from the cavernous warehouses of my memory.