Friday, October 21, 2011

On the Road Again

Yeah. Haven’t been posting much (sorry, loyal reader), but things have been a bit hectic. Somewhere shortly after that last vacation, plans were made for the next vacation. I got an e-mail for a crazy good deal on another cruise from the nice Windstar people, and have spent the last month or so getting all my ducks in a row – both FOR the trip, and so that I could LEAVE on the trip. (Oh, hey, also, I’ll be co-producing an Awards show again this spring, so that’ll be another light-posting season.)

ANYWAY, though, the Adventure Began this morning. Well, no, the adventure began last night, when I was packing. Here’s the thing: I wear jeans all the time. And I hate getting into dirty jeans. Hate it. (I dunno – maybe I like wearing my jeans kinda tight, so it feels gross sliding into legs I’ve already lived in for a day.) ANYWAY, avoiding the re-using jeans problem would require packing 9 pairs of jeans. (Yes. I HAVE 9 pairs of jeans. And a few leftover, too.) I managed to do accomplish this.

Certain sacrifices were made. I’d have to wear my heavy boots on the plane. I’d have to use the carryon which is 1/2 inch too big (in one dimension) for 2 of the airlines I’m flying, and may therefore end up getting checked if someone looks too close. And I don’t have much room to carry anything I may acquire over there. (Expect flat gifts.)

About 11:00 last night, I decide to follow up on a question a friend at work asked me yesterday (when I was anticipating the packing problem) – I checked whether Windstar has laundry on board.

Turns out that they do. And, compared to hotel laundries, it’s CHEAP. They have a plan where you can do all the laundry you want (well, they’ll DO it) during your trip, turning it around within 24 hours, for the low low price of $50. Well, sign me the hell up.

This would, however, require RE-packing. (As if packing wasn’t enough fun the first time.) I was too tired to commence the repacking at the time, but I made a list of what would go (6 of the 9 pairs of jeans, for starters) and, in some cases, what I’d replace it with. That done, I went to bed.

Woke up this morning, went to get my nails done (the ol’ pre-trip manicure – brush-on gel totally rocks, but that’s another story). While at the salon, I realized I needed to stop off at Target to pick up a few last-minute things for the trip. While at Target, I saw a little $20 cassette-to-mp3 converter. I like this idea. I have a box of cassettes I haven’t unpacked (why? what the hell am I going to do with them?) and there’s a lot of music there that I’d like to save. So I throw the thing in my shopping basket. I check out. (I think they’ve overcharged me. They charged me $10 for the cheap headphones I bought, and I’d swear the sign said $5. I look around at how busy the checkstands are, and the lack of a readily-available employee. I do a mental calculation on how much time it will take me to find someone who will make the correction and give me my $5 back (assuming I’m right about it). Given how much time I’ve got before the airport shuttle picks me up, it doesn’t seem worth the risk. Still, I am annoyed by this. I hope I get $10 of use out of the damn headphones.)

I get home around 12:45. I’ve booked SuperShuttle to pick me up at 3:55. Actually, between 3:55 and 4:10, but I am to be ready at 3:55.

OK, 3 hours and change. Do I begin removing stuff from my suitcase to repack it? Do I start to pack my “personal item” (which I still have yet to do)? Do I eat lunch? Do I pay the bills that still have to be paid? Do I go online and book a tour I still need to book?

Or do I go into the big box of cassette tapes looking for the one tape I’d like to try that converter out on?

Yeah, that’d be the one. I must spend 20 minutes trying to find the tape that I want. And while I succeed in finding lots of tapes I’d sorta like, taking a trip down mix-tape memory lane, and totally messing up any order that might previously have prevailed in the box, I do not find the tape I’m looking for. I take the tapes I’d sorta like and go to the computer.

The software that comes with it is on a mini-CD. My computer is a tower. A slim tower. A tower in which the CD-drive is mounted sideways. I put the mini-CD in the drawer (there’s a slot for it), hold it in its slot, and close the drive. The drive closes.

The mini-CD does not load. The computer does not recognize it. I am confused, so I open the drive door.

The mini-CD is gone. It’s in the computer someplace. This is not good. This is SO not good.

I reach around in there trying to grab it with a finger, but no dice. I lean the tower on its side, to see if gravity might drop it into the drawer. No luck.

As with all computer problems, I google it. Surely I cannot be the first moron to lose a mini-CD in a drive. I’m not. In fact, the general consensus is that anyone who puts their software on a mini-CD is a moron. I agree.

I can’t get it out. I can’t even see it still in there.

I have no explanation for what I do next, as it’s all kinds of stupid: I put another disk in the drive (a normal-sized one) to see if whatever I’ve done has put the drive out of commission.

It has. (No real surprise there.) Moreover, now the drawer won’t even eject.

I apply the ol’ paper-clip to open the drive. (I’m frantic now – I know I’m behind on my packing, but I figure I might have broken my brand new computer by losing a mini CD in there, and what kind of idiot sends in a larger disk? What was I hoping it would do? Find the little one and show it the way out?) But, at least I find a paper clip and get the drawer to slightly eject. The drawer is inset, though, so I can’t get my fingers around it to pull it out. I go into my computer tool kit and find a tool that’s grabby (almost like oversized tweezers) and it opens to about the depth of a drive tray. Works perfectly. Have always wondered what that tool was for; I very much doubt it was created to pull out problem drives, but I’m glad I had it for this particular application.

Drawer open, the regular CD comes out (at least it didn’t go after its friend), and I return to the solutions provided by google. The consensus is, “no, really, try gravity.” Rather than using gravity to get the CD to drop back down to the tray, I hold the computer up (with the drive facing the ground) and start shaking it. Gravity indeed takes over and the disk drops right out onto the floor. Hooray!

The drive won’t open and close with the button anymore – apparently, the paperclip killed that. So I reboot the computer. Then I try to open the drive. (It opens! Yay!) Then I try to make it read a normal sized CD. (It reads! Yay!) Then I shut down the system and repack.

No, no, no. That’s what a sane person does.

I put the computer on its side (so the tray is flat) and try the damn mini-CD again. This time, it works!

Well, it works as well as it’s going to. The software loads, but the software interface only opens part of the window. I do not know how to explain this. I can’t get to half of the buttons. I want to hit “maximize” or something, but there is no maximize. I can’t even tab down to the invisible buttons. (Well, I can, but I can’t hit them – my cursor just disappears.) I google this too, and discover I’m not alone. That’s just what this software does in Windows 7. (And XP, apparently.) Lovely.

Well, I can still get at the “record” button. I crank up a cassette, hit record, and THEN go into my bedroom and start taking jeans out of my carryon, and moving the remaining contents into the smaller, international-regulation-friendly carryon. This accomplished, I run back over to the computer, test the file, name the file, and try another cassette.

This goes on for about a half hour, with me running back to the computer just as a song ends (to hit the magic “break the files here” button, so my songs are separate files). I’m doing the sliding-across-the-floor thing, and miss the right moment a few times, but even I know that I don’t have enough time to redo it.

A half hour later and I’ve got THREE WHOLE SONGS as usable mp3 files, a carryon ready to go, and my main suitcase partially repacked. I box up the stupid cassette thing and figure I’ll deal with it later. I transfer the three songs to my cell phone (so I’ll have them for this trip), and search amazon and iTunes for an mp3 of the damn cassette I couldn’t find in the first place. Still doesn’t exist. Someday, I’ve got a date with a big box of cassette tapes.

It is around this time that I get a call from the SuperShuttle guy, who asks me (in heavily-accented, kind-of-hard-to-understand English) if he can pick me up at 3:30. It’s just after 2:00 by now, and after dicking around with the stupid mini-CD and the cassette box, there is no way I can guarantee being ready in 90 minutes. I tell him as much. We have a five minute conversation in which neither one of us understands the other. I know this because the conversation ends with him again asking, “Can I pick you up at 3:30?” This time, I just say, “No.” We hang up. I hope he’s still coming at 3:55.

I make with the repacking, pay all the bills that will come due when I’m away, and do everything else on my “do this before you leave” list. I haven’t yet eaten lunch, and I manage to sit down to my meal at about 3:20. Salad successfully scarfed. At 3:40, the phone rings. It’s the SuperShuttle computer, telling me that my driver is 5 minutes away, and please be ready so as not to make my fellow passengers wait.

(“OK,” I think, “I told you no on 3:30, and that I needed to be picked up at 3:55 as agreed, so you show up at 3:45 anyway. Lovely.”)

I go back into frantic mode. Pet cat; tell her I’m leaving and a friend will take good care of her. Bathroom. Brush teeth. (Well, gargle with watered-down toothpaste.) Run into garage in mad search for luggage tags. One of them has separated, so now I’ve got glue all over my hands. Wash hands. Kiss cat. Set alarm. Open door. Drag luggage outside to see the van pulled up.

And... that’s pretty much it. The other passenger in the van was now the one in frantic mode – she had a flight at 6:00, so needed to get her bags checked by 5:15. She’d scheduled a 3:15 pickup with SuperShuttle so that she’d have plenty of time … and SuperShuttle had (rather than giving us each our own van) tried to make it work by picking me up early – but, with me being (fairly) adamant about my own pick-up time, they just picked her up late AND made her wait. We had about an hour and a half to make it to the airport, and there was a TON of traffic. We eventually made it, but there was certainly a frustrated call to SuperShuttle Customer Service from her end, and there will be an unfavorable email from mine. I mean, it’s all well to let your customers book whatever 15 minute window they want, but it means NOTHING if you’re going to then change times on everyone so that you can combine trips.

Am now cooling my heels in LAX. Plane doesn’t leave for another hour forty-five yet – but internet here is $10 (for a “day pass”), so you’ll either get this once I’ve landed in London (3 hour stopover) or reached my hotel in Nice. (Where I have been promised free Wi-fi. One can but hope.)

ETA:  Yep, Nice.  It's about 9:15 at night here, and somewhere along the line, I missed dinner.  My hotel may be too cheap to have a restaurant ... I see vending machines, though.  I'm sure there's something really wrong with one's first dinner in France coming out of a vending machine, but this may very well be an "any port in a storm" situation.  

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