Monday, March 31, 2008

Hippie Hog

I didn't take off two days to watch NCAA hoops this year, but I did take in as many games as my schedule permitted. My favorite game was UNC vs Arkansas, because I got to drink with Shawn and Matt while we made fun of this guy.

He's a good player, but ripe for comedy. I believe Matt won zinger of the night: "That guy just wants to get back to his tent."

Thursday, March 27, 2008

The South American Experience: Matt's Letter

[NOTE: Matt has expressed an interested in being a guest blogger in the future. If you'd like to read more of Matt in future Tornado Slide posts, make your feelings known in the comments.]

“A Letter Written For Two Women I Saw On The South America Trip”

Hello again. Do you remember me? We met at the harbor in Montevideo where you work. You helped my good friend Dan and I after some retard in Buenos Aires fucked up our ferry reservations. I must say that I was entranced by your beauty. Your bright blue eyes were islands in a torrential sea of dark eyed Latin chicks. Your full, round, voluptuous breasts did not go unnoticed.

Let me get to the point. I love you. I think we should get married. I can just imagine how perfect our life would be together. I am not rich, but I could give you a decent life here in the United States. You wouldn’t even have to work. Our days would be spent hand in hand walking down tree-lined boulevards with flowers and bunny rabbits. Our nights would be filled with the mirth and moisture of love. Soon you would be pregnant with our first of many lovebabies.

I know that you will be a good mother to our children. The way you handled the problem with the reservations is proof of that. You made me feel so safe, so warm when all hope seemed to be lost. For the most part I will ignore and detest our children. Not so much because of the strain they will inevitably put on our finances, but because of the toll they will take on your body. After three or so children I will barely recognize you.

That is where you come in girl number 2. We caught eyes from a few tables away at Café Stranger in Buenos Aires. Your beauty is stunning. I would very much like you to consider the position of mistress. Although not glamorous, it does have perks: a private apartment, money for lingerie and a gym membership.

We could go on trips together to all the places you want to see. My wife will be busy at home taking care of our lovebastards. We will dine at the best restaurants, laze on private beaches and make sweet fuck on a nest of sea turtle eggs under a palm tree. I have to say “fuck” and not “love” because I am married and that would just be wrong, you understand. All this I offer. Also, I promise never to hit you, unless, of course, you were the stupid bitch that took the ferry reservations.



Monday, March 24, 2008

The South American Experience: Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires: Dead Animals, Lively Culture

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

After sailing for a few hours, the ferry dropped its passengers in Buenos Aires. Matt and I agreed to pay 50 pesos for a taxi to our hotel, altough we were both sure it was an overcharge. I considered it a "too lazy to learn Spanish" fee, as our driver didn't speak a word of English; he had to work through the cabbie interpreter, a sunglassed smooth-talker that could have played a Miami Vice villan. As we rode to our destination, the cabbie introduced himself, and asked our names.

"Montevideo," I replied. Eventually, I caught on and told him our names. He pointed out the presidential palace and a hot chick before dropping us at our hotel, the TRYP Buenos Aires. As I unpacked, Matt opened the blinds to check out the view from our 8th floor room.

Despite the view, the room was even better than the one we had in Montevideo, with all the expected amenities plus an LCD television mounted to the wall. It was very warm, however, as a room key was required to power the air conditioner, so we left one key behind to cool things down as we left to explore the neighborhood.

The pedestrian avenues of downtown Buenos Aires were the most crowded streets I've ever walked. Matt, the more seasoned traveller whose opinion carries much more weight than mine, said that it was as crowded as China, "But in China you could see over everyone, so it was easier to get around." With all of my efforts focused on avoiding collisions with shoppers, rush-hour commuters, and street performers, I only got an idea of the stores that composed the city center. I was in awe of the girls that easily navigated their way through human and automobile traffic, phone in hand, activating push-to-talk or composing a text message. Busy, open shops, crowded streets, people working -- the contrast to Montevideo could not have been sharper.

We retreated from the masses to shower and change clothes, then returned to the city streets, now less crowded but still very lively. The guidebook suggested a restaurant on San Martin Plaza, but after an exhaustive search we reluctantly concluded the book was either out of date, full of shit, or some combination of the two. I stopped into a pharmacy to purchase more benadryl. Then, after wandering around for about an hour, settled on a nice but unimpressive-looking corner restaurant with Warsteiner umbrellas above its patio tables.

My old boss had grown up in Buenos Aires. Before travelling, I asked her if she had any advice. The exchange went exactly like this:
dn: I leave for South America on February 2. If you have any suggestions other than "try not to get your wallet stolen", I would love to hear them.

old boss: I don't really have any suggestions. I haven't been there in decades! Remember Argentina has the highest rates of HUS in the world, so avoid raw ground beef. You'll be eating dinner really late (past 9PM), so don't miss tea time. Eat alfajores. Don't tip too much. You'll have to tell me all about it when you get back!

dn: Eat cookies? That's some good advice. And I was going to avoid eating raw
ground beef even before you filled me in on that HUS tidbit...

old boss: Alfajores are not just cookies!!!!! they are delicious biscuits filled with dulce de leche and often covered in chocolate, although there are some varieties that are not covered in choc. There are some alfajores that are served at tea time that have cornmeal biscuits, filled with dulce de leche and rolled in shredded coconut, and there are others with a super thin flour just have to have some!
So, after a few Warsteiners, my trout, and Matt's haddock, the bill came.

"Matt, don't tip very much."
"Oh, Matt," I chuckled. "I have done the research. The only piece of advice a former BA resident cared to impart upon me was not to overtip. This is the way things are done in this part of the world."

He left less than 10%, and we proceeded to exit the patio.

"SIR!! Service is NOT INCLUDED in the bill!" our South African waiter shouted, running ten yards to present us with the proof.

"Oh, uh... Here you go," Matt said as he handed over more pesos.

In my old boss' defense, I had some alfajores at the next morning's free hotel breakfast. They truly were delicious. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Back at the hotel, we discussed how an American waiter would have handled his small tip: with a few under-the-breath curse words and bitter resignation. "Here's to bottling up your true feelings inside, American-style!" we didn't actually say as we enjoyed the one of the two Cabernet bottles Matt ordered from room service. Da Ali G Show reruns were on, in english. The Queen's English, no less. I wasn't itchy anymore. I slept great.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

The day began with a great breakfast buffet, and continued with a lot of walking. We saw San Martin Plaza (in the daylight this time), and crossed the 12-lane Libertador Avenue to see the Torre de las Inglesas, well-graffitied but seemingly on the rebound. Pushing east along the busy street, we came to a monument honoring Carlos Maria de Alvear, a war hero of some type, which was among many statues in a park near the fine arts museum.

After taking a walk around the very impressive (Just while typing, I learned that its metallic petals open and close based on the incidence of solar rays-- holy shit!!) but strangely isolated Floralis Generica, we explored Recolta Cemetery -- there was a black cat hanging out inside, but we tried not to take it as an omen. Recolta was an impressive cemetery, full Argentina's deceased political and military greats. The tombs' excessive ornamentation reminded me of what Royal Tenenbaum's marker would have looked like if he had access to unlimited funds.

"I think that pigeon over there just died," Matt remarked as we looked for a place to eat lunch. Again, we tried not to take it as an omen.

We found a promising restaurant at Buenos Aires Design, a high-end mall. The restaurant's menu was heavy on pastas. "Remember," I told my companion, "Argentina is heavily influenced by Italian culture, since it was flooded with immigrants during the World War II, so there's no shame in eating Italian food during our stay here. Thanks, Mussolini!"

"I'm pretty sure you're the only person who's ever said 'Thanks, Mussolini!'."

Soon, the waitress delivered my lasagna and Matt's dish, salmon pasta garnished with a heap of fresh herbs. Matt pulled them off his dish, due to the tiny caterpillar wiggling among the herb pile.

"I know I can't really read the Spanish menu, but I'm pretty sure there wasn't caterpillar on it," he said, and we proceeded to enjoy our meal, make the long walk back to the hotel, and rest.

In the cooler air of sunset, we headed toward the Obelisk of Buenos Aires, located in the center of the incredibly wide and busy July 9th Avenue. As usual, most of the available bench and grass space was occupied by citizenry -- no doubt taking refuge from their stuffy, non-air-conditioned living spaces. We didn't venture far beyond July 9th Avenue; the neighborhood became grittier as we walked. A mother herded several children along from one garbage can to another, the family working together to collect plastic bottles and other useful trash. It would have been more poignant had Matt and I not been such great fans of "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia", watching a hilarious garbage-themed episode on the flight down (see season 3: "The Gang Finds a Dumpster Baby), plus an additional episode that inspired us to bring the term "Streetrat" into our everyday vocabulary.

Matt and I elected to retreat and dine in view of the Washington Monument ripoff, on the patio of Cafe Stranger. Despite the name, we were confident our dinner would not lead to an existential crisis.

Aside from the need for Matt to exchange a frozen bottle of beer for a drinkable one, our time at the cafe was delightful, passing the time watching the many young couples make out like their plane was going down. I was fixated on the process a young man might go through for this kind of success. "Oh, gee, it's really hot in my parent's apartment -- let's go to the park and find a bench," or "Hey, do you maybe want to go to the park? Why? Oh, no reason. We can just sit on a bench and see what happens." And what happens when no bench space is available? Do you walk a few blocks to the next park? American teens: be thankful for your cars, your private little mobile apartments.

A boy approached. Wordlessly, he placed a pair of dress socks on the corner of our table, and on the surrounding tables. A few minutes later, he returned to each table, collected his products, and moved on. The exact cycle was again completed 30 minutes later by another boy, who failed to entice diners with a pen, even though the pen featured a LED light.

A stunning twentysomething sat herself directly in Matt's line of vision and drove him mad with lust.

"Look at the way she chews her sandwich," he whispered. I looked. It was obscenely worthwhile.

"Here. Act like you're taking a picture of me, but zoom in on her," I said.

With the second bottle of room service wine waiting back at the hotel, Matt and I dodged pedestrian traffic down Corrientes Avenue. At every intersection, men would implore us to consider exotic entertainment: "Showgirl?". Flyers in their hands, arms extended, the men received no response and each made last-ditch attempts to entice: "Showboy?".

Thursday, February 7

The breakfast buffet included chorizo and cheesecake: nice.

Our plan was to tour Casa Rosada (the presidential palace), but upon arriving, we couldn't discern if tourists were allowed inside. The neighboring Plaza de Mayo seemed worn, graffitied; it was full of people that seemed to have no agenda. Matt and I walked several more blocks to Puerto Madero, the rejuvinated old port district. I saw a dead fish floating in the water; beyond it loomed the Puente de la Mujer.

"I read that they designed that footbridge to resemble a woman doing the tango."

"Man, they really fucked that up," Matt said. "It's like he waited until the night before it was due to design it."

Despite the low level of late-morning pedestrian traffic, many small parillada kiosks were open and grilling. There was enough grilled meat for a state fair, sitting, sizzling, waiting for a customer, the smell wafting our way every 30 yards or so, different shop, same meat.

We took a break in a shaded park near a wetland conserve, near four children that played volleyball without a net. Walking past an unoperational fountain littered with plastic bottles (I told Matt the statue commemorated the first time Eva Peron took a dump in a clamshell), we went back to the Plaza de Mayo via the San Telmo neighborhood. San Telmo was where the tango was born; accordingly, we saw one couple performing the dance for the benefit of a cafe's patrons. We also saw a dead rat on the sidewalk, completing the Buenos Aires Small Animal Death Trifecta.

One hot subway ride later, we emerged in the Palermo neighborhood, and walked through the Rose Garden, the Japanese Garden, and the Plaza de Italia. An enterprising local used a long stick to sell cheap drinks to those on the more expensive side of the zoo's iron fence.

Matt noticed a busy downtown parillada -- well, it was hard to miss, given the storefront display.

We ordered a special dinner for two and a bottle of malbec. The waiter brought us some breadrolls.

"If I'm right about what I think is coming, I'm only eating one roll," Matt said. He asked me how our first empanadas of the trip tasted.

"It's like a really good sloppy joe," I replied.

We then plunged into a pile of meat, most of which we were able to identify. We tried a bit of everything -- intestine, liver, and what might have been kidney included among it.

"I think I'm going into a meat coma," I slurred as I gave up on the final leftover scraps of chicken.


*There's a lot to see. Budget at least 3 days if you want to see the city center and the outlying neighborhoods.

*The TRYP Buenos Aires Hotel has a killer free breakfast and good internet access.

*Expect to be non-threateningly solicited. If someone tries to give you something, resist the natural urge to take it in your hands. Remember when you walked past the Mormons on campus that were trying to hand out complimentary pocket-sized Book of Mormon? And you just smiled and kept your hands to the side? Do that. If you can't resist, remember: the item you're holding was probably fished out of the garbage. After you return the item to the seller, wash your hands.

*Tip 10% or so.

*If you can't comprehend which elevator button to push, go with "L".

*Don't publicly insult Che Guevara.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Hotlanta Hilton

I planned on posting the Buenos Aires trip narrative as well as some other junk, but this hotel has ruined such plans. It's $15 per 24 hours of wifi. You read that correctly. Why Hilton has to charge $15 for what the Garden City, KS Super 8 gives you for free, I can't say.

I'm surviving on a Motorola PC card lovingly donated by a coworker. It's a tad slow, but much more economical.

I gawked at some tornado damage with the rest of the yokels at midday yesterday. Olympic Park looks like a bomb hit it. Too soon?

The weather hasn't been as nice as I hoped; in fact, I may have to abandon plans to visit the Carter Presidential Library and the MLK site.

A coworker's local friend invited us out for her birthday party last night. We went to The Spotted Dog, a British pub converted from an old Midtown firehouse. A British pub was already a strange spot for St. Patrick's Day, and the loud music added to the confusion. I heard a techno/dance remix of a Doors song, as well as Janet Jackson's "Rhythm Nation", before scrambling to the digital jukebox to play "Sunday Bloody Sunday", an audible symbol of my struggle to align the calendar with my location. I followed that up with "Supersonic", so as to not upset the empire's loyalists.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

But Then Again, He Has To Be

All Things Considered just described New York's new, legally-blind governor as "a good listener".

NPR is hilarious sometimes. Well, back to my latte.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Lousy Farmers

Today being the first work day after Daylight Savings took effect, I knew I would hear some rube coworker say, "Boy, I just haven't adjusted to the time change yet!" What I didn't know is that I heard that comment less than 2 minutes after entering the office building. Goddamn rubes.

Oh, and the whole Congress-changing-the-Daylight-Savings-dates-to-save-energy thing is probably a bust. Goddamn Congress.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

The South American Experience: Montevideo

[NOTE: I had to choose between typing all of my memories or typing only what was interesting. I chose comprehensiveness over quality.]

Sunday, February 3, 2008
Montevideo, Uruguay

Matt swore he had read the Hotel Cottage was a 15-minute walk from downtown. We were sweating. We'd been walking for over an hour, and the only cloud in the sky hung uselessly in the east, having already passed between the sun and ourselves. Sure, the beach was only a few yards to our left, and the ocean only a few yards past the sand, but we'd had that view for miles and miles. Is downtown around the next bend? No: more beaches, more apartments facing the beach. Where were the buses? Do they not run down this busy street on Sundays? Where were the taxis?

Finally, near some tall buildings but not yet within our map's boundaries, we spotted a taxi in a convenience store parking lot.

"Plaza Independencia?"

Ten minutes later, passing even more crowded beaches, we were in the city center, where most everything was closed. It was early evening. We didn't like our chances of finding a cab after dark, and decided to taxi back to the hotel and start fresh in the morning.

"Hotel Cottage?"

Matt tried the name of the street, and the name of the hotel's fancy neighborhood.

"Hotel Cottage? Miraflores? Carrasco?"

The driver didn't understand. Matt tried to indicate on the map that we wanted to follow the coast back to Carrasco. A mile later, the driver pulled next to a group of drivers to find someone who spoke English. One person asked Matt to write down the destination, a solution so obvious it enraged us.

(During the remainder of the ride, I checked the guidebook for the spanish pronunciation of "Hotel": "o-TEL". If a Uruguayan approached my cab and asked to go to a o-TEL, I'm pretty confident I wouldn't respond with "Shopping?".)

Running on the few moments of sleep gleaned during the international flight, we elected to dine at the hotel and turn in early. Matt had a meaty sandwich. I had a salmon salad. We shared a bottle of local cabernet sauvignon. We checked our TV's 15 or so channels for the Super Bowl -- no dice. Sleep.

Monday, February 4, 2008
Montevideo, Uruguay

Matt had set his alarm to go off before dawn, in case we wanted to get up and watch the sunrise over the ocean. As it turned out, we did not. Hours later, workers disturbed our slumber. The hotel was under construction -- a jackhammer was involved. Eventually, just in time to miss the hotel's free breakfast, we got organized and left our room. We exited the hotel, crossed one street, and began to walk along the beach. Matt and I could only alternate between swimming, wading, and lying on the sand for an hour or so. The locals, who were refreshingly unashamed of their physiques, were still going strong when we left.

A taxi again dropped us downtown. Plaza Independencia was much the same as the previous evening, with every bench and many of the finer grassy areas occupied by citizenry. The guidebook recommended a parrillada (a restaurant specializing in lots of meat grilled over charcoal) nearby, so we grabbed lunch. Matt had kabobs. I had the "Baby Beef", which was turned out to be a big ribeye steak. We shared an order of "Barbequed Cheese", which was exactly like a margherita pizza sans crust.

Enough fucking around. It was time to see downtown Montevideo. We walked a few blocks, passing a couple of restaurants, where a park served as an outdoor market. Some were skilled artisans, offering paintings and handmade trinkets. Others were businessmen of questionable worth, attempting to sell rusty corkscrews and other attic-salvaged miscellany to sun-stroked tourists. We walked on.

Quiet dogs roamed the streets with no owners in sight. Many lounged in the shade. Almost every building was closed, seemingly non-operational, seemingly so for many years. We stumbled on another small park; again, every bench was occupied as people lounged in the shade and waited for something to happen. We walked to the pier, where a good number of locals were spending the day fishing. We walked to the tourist information center next to the Port of Montevideo. It was closed -- shocking. The only interesting place we came upon in several hours of walking was the small indoor mall of Mercado del Puerto, which consisted of a handful of craft kiosks and twice as many parrilladas.

Giving in to the local custom, we found a patch of grass in Plaza Independencia and made a plan: retreat to the hotel, shower, rest, and then find a place to get drunk. We walked to the nearest taxi and saw yesterday's driver waiting for us. He drove us back via the coastline, where the entire city sat on the beach drinking yerba mate.

The Carrasco neighborhood was so nice, it was hard to believe we spent the day wandering around dump of downtown. Every house was impressive, gated, and well-kept. We settled on another parrillada for dinner, sitting at a table outside, overlooking the fancy supermarket across the moderately-busy street. Still full from our huge lunch, we stuck to beer for the night.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008
Montevideo, Uruguay

I woke up in the middle of the night and couldn't get back to sleep. Though not sunburned (thanks, sunscreen!), my legs itched from the shock of ultraviolet radiation. What did I have to keep me company? The Film Zone, a primarily spanish-language movie channel that dabbled in english-language films with spanish subtitles. I caught the second half of Comedy Central staple "Slackers", and kept The Film Zone locked in for the subsequent offering, "Blow Out". How could I not? The opening credits revealed a starring role by superstar John Travolta, supporting roles from John Lithgow and Dennis Franz, with the impeccable direction of Brian de Palma! Unfortunately, there was a reason I'd never previously heard of the star-studded affair: it really, really sucked. (1980s vintage Travolta should have been a big clue.)

Matt needed an ATM, and I needed antihistamine. Our first stop was the nearby gas station, which had no ATM, but did have a dumpster. The trash receptacle was not of interest to Matt or I, but it did receive attention from the horse-drawn cart parked 50 yards away. A young child was dispatched by the cart's driver to examine the dumpster's contents, and to retrieve useful waste items, such as plastic bottles.

After a brief and surprisingly simple visit to the pharmacy, Matt found his ATM, and we got a taxi to the port. Matt had purchased our tickets the previous night by telephone, after some difficulty finding an English-speaking representative of Buquebus, the company that ran ferries from Montevideo to Buenos Aires. The difficulty continued when we were told our names were not in their system. A company official -- small, steely-eyed, attractive, about our age -- stepped in; she told us that our tickets may be on the ship, and she would look for them as soon as it docked.

We waited a few hours in the terminal building. It was here where I cracked the first of the trip's many "What the hell does that mean?" jokes. The first victim was the port's cafe.

DAN: "Cafe del Puerto? What the hell does that mean?"

Sure enough, the boat held our paper tickets. More precisely, it held one ticket for a female named Matthew Rutt, and one ticket for a male named Daniel Maefef. It was enough to earn a shake of the head and a shrug from an immigration official, who waved us on to the ferry.

Each of us chose a cold, flat, breaded chicken breast with cold, fried potatoes for lunch. (Needless to say, the cafeteria's options were few.) My legs still itched, so I couldn't sleep even if there weren't kids running around the ship, screaming, or if the football team sitting near us wasn't listened to the same terrible song over and over again, the sound distorting through the headphones' tiny speakers. The inexplicable popularity of the ship's duty free shop wore on me. I was beginning to wonder if the trip was a mistake.

* * *


I'm not sure what motto the tourism ministry in Montevideo has come up with, but I would like to make a few suggestions:

1. Beaches and Stuff!
2. Sun, beaches, and that's pretty much it!
3. No need to go into town! Nothing is open anyway!

Lonely Planet's "South America on a Shoestring" dedicated a few pages to Montevideo. In those pages, they hyped the downtown area. Shame on you, Lonely Planet. Props for "Europe on a Shoestring", "China", and "Scandinavia", but you fell way short of my expectations this time. Perhaps it's time to give me a job. I can give you a rewrite in about thirty seconds.

As Ever,

* * *


*Go to relax, not for adventure.

*Stay near the coast, where you'll be spending the majority of your time. You have your choice of crowded and less-crowded beaches. We had a good experience in Carrasco at Hotel Cottage, near a less-crowded beach.

*Budget no more than 3 hours for exploring downtown, Mercado del Puerto, and the old city.