Saturday, August 23, 2014

What is this, China?

Tip:  When the temperature outside is 113 Fahrenheit (which I don't have to understand to know is ridiculously high), having the air conditioning turned to the max in your car will only just barely make it tolerable.

Tip:  Yes, that parking space five feet closer is necessary.

We began our day by switching cars at the airport, since it was cheaper to return the Nashville car without incurring a charge for a third day at the one-way rate and rent another car for one day in Austin.  We were initially charged for being late for an additional hour.  At a rate of $112.  But this time, I just explained that we got the charge, and they simply removed it.  I didn't have to provide a justification for why we shouldn't be charged or anything.  (Which would have been that we were well within the grace period, though we had obviously planned to arrive earlier.)  The rep just took care of it for me.  This is ideal.  If it's a thing you're going to remove anyway, then just do it without the fuss, and you will have much happier customers and better word-of-mouth.  (Though I understand not all reps may have this discretion.)  He was also otherwise an extremely patient and very nice guy.  However, I suspect that they are still actually trying to kill me for telling them I was not satisfied with their service in Newark, as they rented us a car with black leather interiors in 100+ degree weather.  Worse, I think the plan is working.

In opposite customer service news (scroll down to skip the rant - it's long), yesterday, when we checked into the hotel, they gave us a room with a king bed.  I had called on Tuesday to request a double room, and the person I spoke to had told me I was "all set."  So I assumed it was just a mistake and went downstairs to tell them.  Then they asked me how I booked and launched into a whole spiel about how Priceline doesn't guarantee your room choice (true), and that they weren't "obligated" to help me, and that the hotel was booked full so they couldn't do anything.  And I'm standing there like, my issue isn't with Priceline - nor is yours.  A hotel employee told me I had a double room.  ("That's impossible."  "Well, it's not impossible, because it happened."  Why do people even say these things?  "That's impossible," in this context is either saying, "You're lying," which you better be damn sure is true, or "I'm not owning up to this.")  The only reason I think I have this room is because that is what you told me, not because I think Priceline guarantees it.  You can't blame them for that, boys, and you know it.  We've also been doing this for the entire trip (booking on Priceline, then calling the hotel directly to request a double room), and we haven't had any issue with it.

Then the guy was all, "Well why'd you call the hotel if you booked through Priceline?"  Is this a serious question?  How is that even weird?  Does he expect normal people to know and/or care how labor gets divided between Priceline and the hotel?  Am I supposed to think the hotel's system is unable to allocate rooms independently?  And if it can't (though past experience indicates it can do that everywhere else), then tell me up front to call Priceline instead of telling me you gave me what I wanted so then I don't make any other arrangements.  I don't know your life, hotel.  You deal with Priceline drama on your own time.  Also, don't say, "soon enough we won't need Priceline anymore."  You're telling me, "Oh, gross, you came from Priceline?  Well shit, who even cares then?"  That is a thing you might think or discuss in a back office, not a thing you say to a client.  Jesus.  Also don't tell me how much money you're "losing" on the room I booked.  I'm not exactly sure how your own decision to accept Priceline's price is my fault.

Hotels:  If you don't need Priceline, then don't use it.  If you do, then deal with it.  Don't, however, use it for business benefits and then be visibly exasperated about it.

So anyway, after they decided, "Well we can't have her just standing here," they "really tried" and were "nice" and gave us a rollaway bed at no charge.  I, in turn, "really appreciated" this.

Here's how this whole thing could have gone:

"I think you gave us the wrong room, because it's a king and we requested a double."
"I'm so sorry about that, let me see what's going on."  (Instead of, "When did you call?"  "Who did you speak to?" "How did you book?" followed by everything on your end that you deal with for Priceline, which I don't give a shit about. "So" sorry isn't really necessary, but seems in line with Southern standards for guest services.)
"Unfortunately, we are all out of double rooms, and I do apologize for the mistake, but we can provide you with a rollaway bed at no charge, and we can throw in a soda (or something else trivial, but it was really hot and this would have been awesome) for you for the inconvenience.  Normally, we would just change your room, but unfortunately we are booked solid during your stay, so this is honestly all we can do."
"Ok, that's fine."


At every other hotel, and at both Southern Avis locations, we've walked away saying some variant of, "Holy shit, that guy/lady was so nice."  So it can be done.  Take notes, Courtyard Marriott-University Area, Austin, TX.  That's right; I'm naming names.  (And for the good:  The hotel with the good omelettes but bad grammar was Country Inn & Suites in Texarkana, TX.  To be clear, they aren't made to order or anything, but they're way better than the egg patty looking things at other places.  They also have free cookies that are quite good.  Hotel Preston in Nashville was probably the nicest customer service I've ever experienced, except for maybe the Austin Avis guy.  Even the airport shuttle drivers were nice.  I will say that internet was spottier at both those hotels, though.  Also that Chik-Fil-A handled fuck-ups way better than this hotel.)

Rant over.

Ken has been surprised by my ire on this trip, as I am usually very nice to people in the service industry.  (That may not seem true from this blog, but "please" and "thank you" don't really write a narrative.)  I'm only a dick when you're a dick, or you fucked up and won't fix it.  Don't dish it out if you can't take it, hospitality industry.

Ok.  So today was way, way, way too hot for any kind of "let's just walk around [neighborhood]" activity, so we had a short to-do list, and we stuck to it.  I'm not sure if I mentioned this before, but Texas is still very humid, so the entire city is basically a sauna.  I have been told that Utah and Arizona are "dry," and if that's not true, I will have lost about 5 pounds in sweat by the time I get to L.A., despite the non-stop barbecue.

Number one: food trucks

As Didi's friend put it, everything you think is a restaurant in Austin is a food truck, and all the restaurants have trucks, too.

The white thing is egg.
I got "the Argentinian" emapanada at mmmpanadas, which was really good, and baked just right.  Didi got an empanada and an Arnold Palmer (iced tea and lemonade) that only came in this size:

Number two: Graffiti Hill

Hoo!  Ha!  Nerdfighters!

The graffiti speaks for itself, but I will add that it was brutally hot while we were here.

Number three: Lick Ice Creams

Lick has lots of unique flavors.  The ones we got were milk and cookies, ranch road (like rocky road), too hot chocolate (which was actually really spicy), and roasted beets and fresh mint.  (That last combo is one flavor.  Yay, serial commas.  These are evidently not the industry standard in law.  And we wonder why our laws are so unclear. Grammar is the math of language!  It is the thing that relates words to each other and gives sentences meaning!  Use it!)

The combination of the mint in the beets flavor and the spice in the chocolate flavor was really interesting.  It started off cool, and then got hot.  Good stuff.  Waffle cone was definitely worth 99 cents.

Number three: Micklethwait Craft Meats

We obviously had to have Texas barbecue, so I got a half pound of brisket, jalapeno cheese grits, and beans.  It was so freaking good.  So fatty.  So cheesy.  Also really hot though, because this is also a food truck with seating outside in the sun.  Why didn't I buy the boob cream?  Poor life decisions.

So I think my preferences for barbecue are: Carolina (with some hot sauce), Texas, Memphis (but would try again elsewhere to reevaluate), Kansas City.

Number four: Bats (yes, like the flying rodents)

The Congress bridge over Lady Bird Lake is home to a shit-ton of bats, who live in the deep and narrow grooves that run under it.  Around dusk, they all fly out for their evening shenanigans at the same time.  This is pretty cool to see, but actually very difficult to photograph, because the background is trees and water, and bats are small dots that don't have a lot of contrast.  So here is the best photo I have, but it in no way depicts the sheer quantity of bats.

All those little brown dots over that white line I drew - those are all bats.  In real life, you can see them in swarms shifting in formation in the far, far distance.
This page has excellent tips, though I think you can only get those photos from the water beneath the bridge, where you run a high risk of guano exposure.  We chose to go with parking at the Radisson, where the first hour is free (and we were out by then).

We are leaving for the airport in 80 minutes so I should... nap.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Why can't I ctrl-z ctrl-z?

Guys, I fucked up.  I accidentally ctrl+z-ed too far, and I deleted all my photos from today, and I could only recover four of them.  I didn't even know this was possible.  (Ctrl+y did not help.)  Luckily they weren't that great?  And now I have to use my words.  Sigh.

I'm curious about the history of hotel amenities.  How come they never have toothpaste?  It seems like a natural thing to include if you're going to provide soap and hair stuff.  Also, how can hotels still get away with charging for internet?  I would readily book a lower tier hotel with free internet than a 4-star hotel that charges me $16.95 a day for it.  Are the latter just filled with businessmen who don't pay for their own rooms anyway, and this is a way of pricing out (via annoyance) normal people on vacation?  Also, who hangs out in hotel lounges?  What does it mean when the person who checks me in says there's "usually" "a good crowd going" there?  As someone who's never done this, I imagine it as the ideal place to meet a businessman who always travels alone and never had time for a wife and now clings desperately to the social interaction he finds on a bar stool in a hotel lounge.  Sometimes he strikes up a conversation with a couple travelling together, but they always leave.  So he just sips his scotch on the rocks and pretends to take interest in whatever game is on.  So yeah... I don't want to go to there.

The hotel we stayed at in Texarkana had really nice omelettes in the morning, with meat and peppers and everything. Although they spelled it "omelet's," so there's that.  It confuses me to no end the number of people who do not understand that apostrophes indicate possession or contractions and NOT PLURALS.  I don't mean an occasional error; I mean consistent incorrect usage.  (Or worse, inconsistent incorrect usage.  What are you even basing your decision off of?  Whether it looks right?)  People even do this in contracts.  Actual legal documents.  This is not a debatable grammar rule, like splitting infinitives, or ending a sentence with a preposition, or following a period with a full stop.  This is, at this point in history, a baseline rule.  How does this happen and where is your attorney who approved this?  Are daily edits/grammar lessons not universal in America?  Because signs in store windows will provide infinite daily edit material.  (Related: usage of "quotes" on "signs."  Why does your establishment have a "restroom" - or "restroom's" - where "employees" "must" wash hands?)  And to people who think grammar isn't a big deal (though you wouldn't be reading this, because we aren't friends), I cannot tell you how much my evaluation of a person's and/or business's competence will change if their writing is rampant with clearly unintentional grammatical errors, and I am definitely not alone in this.  (Foreigners/ESL exempt, obviously.)  If you can't understand apostrophes, how can I be confident that you understand anything?

Anyway, back to road tripping.  Driving through the South means driving in the company of lots and lots of trucks (commercial, not pickup), often on two-lane highways.  Some trucks are nice and give you a lot of following space when they are behind you.  Others are right behind you, and make you think that if you have to slam on your brakes for some reason, you're all going to die.  This is very annoying.  (Sometimes people tell me about car passengers dying because the truck behind them couldn't stop suddenly enough because of inertia, so this is a worry I have.)  Also, a small number of drivers in the South really speed and weave through traffic, which again, means trucks.  I thought I was bad.  (I may or may not go 90-100 mph if conditions will safely allow.  I no longer weave through traffic because I'm old enough to realize how stupid that is.)

Along our drive, we've been listening mostly to top 40 stations, because the other options are country or Christian or talk radio, but when I stepped out at a gas station, I definitely heard a country song that was just about getting drunk on a plane.  I gotta say, I really do enjoy the fact that country songs are just so literal.  We also heard someone win free McDonald's when they called into a radio station.  That seems... bleak.  I'd rather have the oil change.  Based on radio ads, I think we may inadvertently be following the One Direction tour.

There isn't much to do between Texarkana and Austin, unless you plan to stop in Dallas, but the one thing that was suggested was this little pocket of Czech bakeries in West Texas.  We went to Czech Stop, but there are several others in the immediate vicinity.  They all claim the best "Czech donut" or kolache.  These are golden brown tart-like pastries filled with cream cheese and/or fruit.  I got a pumpkin cream cheese one, and it was pretty tasty, and very cheap.  Since this was also basically our lunch stop, I also got Czech style hot dog things, which were also pretty good.  The "hot chubbie," which is not sexual, is the better one, if you like a little spice.  Would stop again.  I had a shot with Candide on the bakery case with the golden buns underneath, all aglow.  You'll just have to imagine it.

After we arrived in Austin, we went to Torchy's Tacos for dinner, which came highly recommended.  I rarely eat Mexican food because I hate cilantro, which means I can't have salsa, guacamole, or pico de gallo, and sometimes it is also in the rice and/or beans.  Hence, I avoid Mexican food.  At Torchy's, one of the guys who happened to be behind the counter (not where he usually is, it seems) knew which sauces and things did not have cilantro, so ordering was easy.  I asked for the crunchy shell, and they said they didn't do that, which made me wonder if crunchy taco shells are the sesame chicken of Mexican food (i.e. completely made up for Americans).  That crunch though.  I love it.

I had so many more photos of this place.

I ordered the crossroads (beef brisket) and the green chile pork, both without fresh cilantro and with chipotle sauce. (The poblano and diablo sauces also do not have cilantro.)  I would say I was highly satisfied, but it didn't hit the spot quite like barbecue or a steak.

We then headed to 6th Street, which is sort of like Bourbon Street in New Orleans, if Bourbon street were three lanes wide and in Texas.  A friend of mine recommended Midnight Cowboy, a speakeasy, which, in true speakeasy style, just looks like a weird apartment/motel (?) with buzzers on the outside for nonsense names.  There is a two-drink minimum, however, and reservations are encouraged, so we passed on that.

6th Street
Midnight Cowboy
We wound up at Pete's Dueling Piano Bar, and it was awesome.  (Based on the Yelp check-in deal, I think there's usually a cover charge, but we didn't get charged, perhaps because we are ladies.)  The only other dueling piano bar I've been to was, incidentally, in New Orleans, but this one was much more entertaining.  The faux catty dynamic between the two pianists was better, and they had a drum set and guitars to flesh out the sound.  They were also pretty good at controlling the atmosphere via song choice while also taking requests (accompanied by tips).  Also, while there was both a bachelor and a bachelorette party, no one proposed while wasted during spring break (which actually happened in New Orleans, and even the pianist said, "Oh my God, this is really happening," after she realized it was not a joke).  All around a very good time, and the played everything from Tupac to Country Roads to Bohemian Rhapsody to Piano Man.  At one point, they asked for all the Texans to make some noise, and some people booed. That's ballsy.  And probably a good way to get yourself shot.  But maybe not in Austin.

We also saw a woman walking around topless.  Good for her.  It is justifiably hot, and I support it, though I think it will make crowded bars a bit awkward.

The proportion of blondes here is too damn high.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Texarkana (Texas side)

This morning, not one but two individuals asked if Didi and I were in town for the One Direction concert last night, so apparently the bus driver was not the only person who thought we looked like youths.  We, of course, were completely unaware that there was a One Direction concert in Nashville last night, because we are adults who don't have tween-aged children.

I've been to the South before, but I always forget the following:

1. Strangers say hi to you and hold doors open for you just because you're a person.  In New York, this would be borderline harassment.
2. The LOW is 23 degrees.  (I can't do Fahrenheit.*)  That's presumably taken at the airport where the weather detectors are but where it is usually cooler than city centers, so the real low isn't even 23.  The high is 40 and feels like the air is boiling.  I applied sunscreen twice today just to sit in the car.
3. There are no Asians.  I never notice this until it's been a few days, because the town I grew up in was at least 90% white, so this is not unusual to me.  But sometimes I notice people looking at us weird (not openly making a face, but just for a second too long), and then I realize they are probably fearing a Communist takeover because three Asians have appeared out of nowhere.

We had a much more pleasant rental experience at the Avis counter in the Nashville airport, even though the agent we spoke to was from New York City.  I think the South just attracts nicer people; it certainly raises the bar for minimum expected decency.  This does mean, however, that Southerners are much more easily offended when these rules of etiquette are thrown to the wayside.  That isn't based on what I've seen this trip, but my Southerner college friends who were very put off by New Yorker attitude.  To them, some Northern practices (or more likely the lack thereof) comes off as being raised by wolves without a care for common courtesy.  Sorry rebs!  On the other hand, they didn't know that "negro" was no longer an acceptable term until moving to New York, so you win some, you lose some.

Radio in the South is interesting.  There are gun commercials at regular intervals, as well as PSAs to prevent child obesity.  A woman called into a station and won a contest for a free oil change.  There are also a lot of political ads, at least one of which was an endorsement of a candidate based on his pro-life politics.  I wonder if there will ever be a day in American politics where abortion is a non-issue.  Like in the rest of the developed world.  Also better parental leave.  Maine was similarly political and Christian in its advertisement air time and music choices.

We stopped in Memphis for some barbecue, because it's the one (major) style that I haven't tried.  We chose Payne's, based on a cross reference between a Travel + Leisure article and Yelp ratings.  We ordered chopped pork sandwiches and a half slab of ribs (which I assume were of the "dry" variety, since there wasn't any sauce on them).

Sometimes when people say a restaurant is a "shack," I don't know what they mean.  Now I know.
No air conditioning!  Again!  HOW IS THIS HAPPENING?  THIS IS THE SOUTH.  HOW DO YOU EVEN LIVE.  Also, the bathroom looked like a good place for a murder.
The sauce usually comes on the sandwich already.
We got both medium and hot barbecue sauce on the side so we could try both.  As far as I can tell, the flavor profile is very similar to Kansas City barbecue, in that it's very sweet, although it might be a little more tangy.  It was almost like the duck sauce that comes with those fried noodle things at Chinese fast food restaurants, but with some heat added to it.  The chopped pork was good, but the ribs were not to my particular taste.  They were a little too tough and had a little too much bark for me, whereas I prefer when the meat just slides off the bone.  The flavor was really nice and smoky though.  (I always think that's spelled Smokey because only I can prevent forest fires.  Thanks, Pennsylvania.  By the way, I found that campaign very confusing as a child.  Three-year-olds cannot pick up on the play on the general vs. the specific "you.")

Our next pit stop was Clinton's library in Little Rock (which is actually named after a rock formation, apparently). We didn't make it there before the 5:00 PM closing time, but we took some photos of the grounds, which are really nice.

This isn't the river the bridge runs over, but it runs next to it.  You can hear cicadas (or something cicada-like), but they aren't annoyingly loud like in China.
Clinton School of Public Service
Then we made it to our hotel in Texarkana, TX.  There is also a Texarkana, AR, but I assume this is purely for administrative reasons, since I'm pretty sure it is one city in any intuitive sense.  If New York is an extremely planned city, Texarkana is the suburban analogue.  (Analog?  Which one is the preferred spelling?) It appears to have popped up in the past ten years, based on the retail establishments that are here, which include every imaginable typical suburban store and restaurant.  (For example, Kohl's, Target, Walmart, T.J. Maxx, Michael's, Chili's, Red Lobster, all fast foods, Hallmark, etc.)  It is strip mall after strip mall along the highway, and the local roads go over or under the highway in a clearly deliberate design.  I assume the city planner/extraterrestrial observer of Americans just solicited every major national retail chain to put a branch here, and now it is a generic suburban mecca.  There's not anything distinctly Southern about this place other than the etiquette and racial makeup of the population.  It is strange.

We ended up just grabbing dinner at a Chik-Fil-A, where they brought the food out to us and gave us an extra order of fries (accidentally).  They got my order wrong though, so they then gave us yet another order of fries, and treated the error as though it were a really serious fuck-up.  The manager came and talked to me and everything. (Of her own accord, obviously; I did not ask to speak to her.)

This was by far the most polite fast food restaurant I've ever been to and may be the only one where I thought people might be taking their jobs too seriously (as opposed to being high and giving me the thousand yard stare of "I've given up on my life," which is every McDonald's in Manhattan).  (Though to be fair, they have to deal with a much higher volume of people, many of whom are much more homeless/addicted to drugs than your car owner in Texarkana.)

We plan to leave this suburb's suburb tomorrow and head to Austin for more barbecue and tacos.

*Although I grew up in suburban America, I was almost always at a comfortable temperature, or had immediate access to a heated or cooled space, or I just didn't care because I was a child.  The first time I ever actually cared about outside weather was when I went to China when I was 8.  So I quickly learned that 30 is warm and 36 is hot as balls, and we didn't turn on the air conditioning unless it was 36 or higher.  so 35 degrees was my worst enemy.  So I know Celsius.  I do not know Fahrenheit, except that 32 is freezing and over 100 is 40+ in Celsius.  I think 80 is hot? It sounds hot.  It's such a high number.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

HOT Chicken

Tip:  Nashville follows Central Time.  Who knew?  (Yes, I realized this yesterday, but I forgot to mention it.)

A friend of mine who was born and raised in Nashville picked us up from our hotel and kindly drove us to lunch at Hattie B.'s, a relatively new establishment that serves Nashville's signature "hot chicken," which is basically a cross between buffalo wings and fried chicken.

You can order your meal (white/dark/tenders, small/large, with two sides, and a cup of ranch, blue cheese, or honey mustard) in the following levels of spice: Southern (no heat), mild, medium, hot, damn hot, or for the Man vs. Food types, shut the cluck up.  My friend advised against "damn hot" based on personal bowel history, so having that fear instilled in me, I went with the medium, which was perfectly fine.  The chicken was very good, and satisfyingly greasy (for someone of my tastes).  The pimento mac and cheese was also really good (very cheesy, the way kids and I like it), and on my friend's recommendation, I got a double serving of it for my two sides, and I have no regrets.

My sole complaint is that Hattie B.'s has no air conditioning.  Why is this a thing?  First Kennebunkport, now Nashville.  Do other people enjoy being really, really warm?  This is a perplexing notion to me.

I was informed that the classic place to go for hot chicken is Prince's, but it is located in a sketchier part of town that is farther away, and Hattie B.'s has quickly become at least second best, if not the best, depending on whom you ask.  The sides at Hattie's are universally preferred to those at Prince's.  And not that this would matter, but you can also see the building where T. Swift, Kelly Clarkson, Hayden Panettiere, Connie Britton, and Kings of Leon live from outside Hattie's.  I didn't take a photo of it, because I'm not a weirdo.

I hadn't seen this friend in years, and it was really nice to see him again and catch up on life, but he had to go study after lunch (school has already started here, which is crazy), so he dropped us off at the Country Music Hall of Fame. Upon entering, we realized that it was not simply open to the public, and tours would be $20+ even with a student or AAA discount.  Neither of us cares $20 worth about country music, and combined, we'd recognize no more than ten names in that entire building, so we just took a few photos in the lobby area and basked in the air conditioning for a little while.

Tip:  There is not a lot to do in Nashville if you aren't really into country music and you don't have a car.  (But if you did have a car, you could go to Jeni's for ice cream or to President Jackson's plantation or to the gardens, among other things.)

So downtown Nashville is really small and all about country/live music.  It's very walkable.  However, it is also HOT AS BALLS AND HUMID AS SWAMP ASS.  I regret not buying that boob lotion so much.  I really do.  And yet people are just traipsing around in SUITS and JEANS.  One woman was wearing JEGGINGS.  How are they even alive?  Looking back, I'm not entirely sure how I survived Southeast Asia.  I must have had a greater ability to survive three years ago than I do now.

Tip:  You absolutely need sweatproof sunblock, even if you're not doing anything active.  Merely sustaining your existence will cause you to sweat.  Especially if you've just eaten hot chicken and mac and cheese.

So we walked down Broadway and checked out the bars (all of which have live music all the time) and some of the shops.  Some of these photos I was taking in a delusion of heat madness, so I didn't even see them until I was vetting photos for the blog.

There is also a "SoBro" neighborhood, following New York's naming convention, but no Nashville native uses this term.  There is also resistance against the development of a subway system, even though Nashville's population is projected to double in the next couple decades, because people don't want to lose the small town feel and become a mean, big city.  To be fair, you need to be excessively polite here just to pass for rude.
Yes, that's my finger.  I blame the heat madness.
These next few are from a souvenir shop:

The Second Fiddle
We initially stopped at Tootsie's Orchid Lounge, which was much louder and much more crowded than the Second Fiddle, but we left because they didn't have beer on tap (only bottled), which I thought was weird.  But the Second Fiddle was the same, so I guess that's just how they do things here.  Candide went with a whiskey sour.  The Second Fiddle was very country, based on the number of songs I did not recognize but other patrons seemed to.

Savannah's Candy Kitchen

Boot Country
 FYI, cowboy boots run $300-450.

I don't know.
This bar was very empty and way more pop-oriented than country-oriented.  Perhaps those two facts are correlated.
There were two stores that I didn't take photos of, but stuck out to me.  One was Earthbound Trading Company and the other was Tatyana Boutique.  Earthbound Trading Company sold every kitschy little thing I've ever seen at a park gift shop that vaguely appears to be "earthy" and sometimes just sort of Asian, but without an inkling of authenticity.  I'm talking necklaces that are "tribal" or have the Chinese zodiac symbol on them and coin purses with Buddhist or Hindu symbols and stuff you put around the house to appear well traveled or "in touch with nature" even though you are neither.  Who buys things at these stores?  Is there a large enough target demographic of people who want to look like hippies but are not actually hippies?  Is their sole clientele 8-14 year old children who don't know any better but to think these things are cool?  I don't understand how these stores survive.  How are they even making rent?  Why are they highly rated on Yelp?  Everything about this is confusing to me.

Tatyana Boutique, on the other hand, I found to be unique and intriguing.  They sell 50s pinup style clothes, and they have a photo studio for pinup style sessions on the second floor.  The employees are dressed and made up in the same style, and they are very dedicated to the concept.  The clothes themselves were really interesting designs (and also expensive), and while I am also confused as to how they make rent, I have much more respect for them.

We took the bus back to the hotel, and as I was paying my fare, the driver asked how old I was.  I said 26.  And he goes, "Oh!  I thought you were a youth!"  That cracked me up.  But no, I am now definitely at an age where I generally avoid "youths."  Also, on the Nashville bus, you get your change back in the form of a transit card.  So now I have a card with 30 cents on it for a Nashville bus.

It has become clear to me in the two times that I've been to Nashville, that you have to get wasted here to appreciate the city.  Neither of the times I have been here was conducive to this.  So I think if I were to come here again, I would go out the first night, get hangover food at Hattie B.'s, and then do calm stuff like see the Hermitage (Jackson's plantation) and the Parthenon replica and whatnot.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Five days, six topics

So I haven't updated because the past few days have just been driving and/or living at home, so four days equals about one post's worth of material, and it will also be kind of random and not have that many photos.

Random topic one: What kind of Asian am I?

I forgot to mention that when we were in Maine, and we were chatting with our host to get to know each other, we started with his life story and then reached a lull in the conversation that would naturally transition to Didi and I talking about ourselves.  He began by asking, after the pause, "So... how do I ask you this?  [pause]  I think you said you lived in China?"  To be clear, the second he said, "How do I ask you this?" I already knew (as would any Asian in America) what he was about to ask.  This gave me the distinct impression that he was very small-town but had an inkling that asking someone, "No, where are you really from?" was a faux pas.  (Though in fact, he grew up around Chicago and went to school in California, so this is far from true.)

I personally do not get offended when people ask where I'm from, or even where I'm "really" from, when it's in the context of getting to know me as a person.  I do this to other people all the time, and I'm sure I've offended some people, but I do find different cultural backgrounds interesting.  This kind of exchange of often happens at networking events and the like, and always while CouchSurfing.  That's all well and good for me, though I know there are Asians who are bothered by this as well.  I do, however, object to people playing "WHO'S THAT POKEMON?" with my racial background.

Example 1:

Two weeks ago, I was waiting for the East River Ferry, and a friend of mine who just moved to the States from China was keeping me company in line.  We were speaking in Mandarin.  The boat arrived, so she left since she wasn't taking it, and the woman behind me struck up some small talk about having missed the boat twice already that day.  Her boyfriend/husband/brother/male companion returns from using the restroom (or something), totally cuts her off, and literally just says at me, in a weird, knowing tone, "Korea?"  Not a full sentence.  Just a word.  His tone was like he saw someone's war wounds and was guessing in which arena a fellow soldier had earned their scars.  Like he actually knew anything about what he was saying.  For the record, I would have preferred, "So where are you guys from?" or "Just out of curiosity, what language were you speaking?"  Not just a completely random guess at what race you think I belong to.  So I just stared him straight in the eyes and said, "China."  And he goes, "Oh, I've been to China before."  And then pauses.  And I'm thinking, "... Am I supposed to respond to this?"  He elaborates, "Yeah, I've been to Beijing for a couple days."  And again, I'm not sure what I'm supposed to say to this.  Good for you, person I don't know at all?  So I just turned around and walked away when the line started moving.

Example 2:

When Didi and I were in Providence (jumping ahead to later this trip), we walked past a presumably homeless guy asking for change.  I said something like, "Sorry," as I walked by, and he responded, "Are you Chinese?"  Why is that relevant?  Are you Kenyan?  Oh wait, I would never say that, because what the fuck.

Example 3:

Ken, my boyfriend, who is Chinese, 6'3" and pretty jacked, walked out of a men's room while we were in Mexico in March, and this guy with an Eastern European accent yells, "Where you from?"  I get that he is, in fact, unusually tall and fit for an Asian guy, but don't just yell at someone, "Where you from?"  Jesus.  Besides, we are roughly a fifth of the world population.  I'm pretty sure the number of Chinese people who are six feet or taller is greater than the entire population of most countries.

Moral of the story:  Get it together, people.  If you are curious about my heritage, I will answer questions about it even if you're a stranger, and even if you ask in ways that might be offensive to others.  If you only want to know my race and nothing else, you are super weird.

Random topic two: GPS continues to be terrible.

I've noticed consistently that there are parts of I-95 for which the GPS will tell you to go off of I-95 and take some weird small one-lane highway or go through D.C. for no discernible reason.  Why, GPS?  WHY?!

So now we ignore directions to go off the highway, because it's always wrong.

This ranks among the things I complain about most often, which also include: boob sweat (but apparently there's a lotion for that), people who lean on the subway pole, and Comic Sans.

(Less) Random topic three: Kennebunkport, ME/Providence, RI.

So after the GPS led us astray and we were stuck behind a truck filled with logs for a million years, we stopped at Mabel's in Kennebunkport of Bush family fame for some lobster.  It is much more expensive than in Bar Harbor.  Beer that was $5 there was $12 here, and a whole lobster went from $15 to $26, and I doubt boiled lobster has that much variance in quality.  They said they get the lobsters from across the street, so it's not like this is due to transaction costs.  I ended up getting one of their signature lobsters where they bake a bunch of other stuff into it, too, so I also had jumbo shrimp, scallops, and bread pudding.

It was $36, and it was very good, though I'm sure their profit margins are very high.  And yet, in spite of this, the place has no air conditioning, which I found highly distressing.  (I am a total wuss about the heat.)

The rest of Kennebunkport is an extremely tiny (yes, "extremely" is necessary there) sort of small-town Main Street area where you share the road with horse carriages, and traffic in both directions will stop to let you make a left turn.  We stopped by a lemonade stand and bought two cups for 25 cents each, because why not.

We continued along to Providence, but by the time we got there, it was much later than we planned, so we couldn't really do anything other than have dinner.  We went to a sandwich place, suggested by an acquaintance of mine, called Meeting Street Cafe.  As far as I can tell, this is the HamDel of Brown.  If you didn't go to Columbia and HamDel means nothing to you, it's basically the sandwich place near campus that students go to all the time for a quick meal between or after classes.  I got "The Hoagie," which was pretty good.  They also sell giant cookies in a variety of flavors, if you'd like a cookie the size of your face.

Also, I forgot how much Massachusetts/Connecticut/Rhode Island drivers are total assholes.  Don't merge onto the highway next to me in a one lane on-ramp!  What are you doing!  Seriously.  I've driven in China and I hate driving in Boston more.

Random topic four: Lying to my face.

Friday was a looooong day of driving.  There was an accident or something on I-95, so it took a million years to return the car, though we did make it within the 29-minute grace period.  The GPS suggested a route through the Bronx that would allegedly save us time, and I-95 was a parking lot, so we decided to try it.  I'm not sure that it was faster, but I will say that the Bronx is in dire need of new paint for lane dividers.  If I were driving there at night, I'd have no clue what was even a one-way street or not.

Anyway, we finally got to Avis to return the car.  The gas station near the airport was too awkward to get to, so we drove in with 3/4 of a tank of gas and figured they would just charge us for the remainder (2-3 gallons) at their ridiculously inflated price.  Fine.  But apparently, that's not what happens.  When we rented the car, they said we could get "fuel service" and return it empty, or we could return it full, or we could pay $9.29 per gallon if it wasn't full.  Ok.  However, when you return the car, the person who checks it just answers on their little machine, "Is the tank full?" as a yes/no answer.  If the answer is no, you automatically get charged for a full tank, which in this case was $118.  I'm obviously not going to pay that.  So I went inside to the counter and spoke to someone, who was saying the price is set at $9.29 (not the point I was contesting), and I kept saying, "Yes, but even at that price, it wouldn't cost $100 to fill the tank."  

Finally, she went outside to check the car and came back and lowered the charge to $70.  I said that's still too high, even at the $9.29 price.  She then showed me on a calculator that 13 times $9.29 was $118 (and change).  Again, not relevant to what I'm saying.  So I said the tank was 3/4 full and would take 2-3 more gallons, max.  (I also drove this make/model in high school, so I was pretty confident about that.)  Then she said, "No, I checked, and the tank was almost empty."  And I said, "... No, it was 3/4 full."  And she says again, "No, it was almost empty."


Up until that point, I could understand that I'm an annoying customer, and you have to enforce your policies to maximize profit revenue, etc.  But do not lie to my face.  Also, don't mess with women from Shanghai.  It's just not a good life decision.  Part of me wanted to tell her, "I'll tell you what.  Go back out to the car.  Take a photo of the gas meter, come back, show me the photo, and then look me straight in the eyes and tell me that the tank is almost empty.  Go.  Do it."  But of course that would be unnecessary.

So we talked to a manager who barely finished listening to my (calm) one-sentence summary of what happened before he just nodded and went to the computer to take off the charge.  (To be fair, I'd have the same "Fuck it, I don't care, here's your money," attitude if I were a manager at such an establishment.)

Shortly thereafter, I received an email for a customer satisfaction survey.  They asked me what they could do better.  I said they could try not lying to my face.  (And I explained, of course.)  I'm also convinced that they'd get way less pushback if they just charged for the shortfall and not the entire tank.  The percentage of people who are going to challenge that has to be way higher than if you really have no leg to stand on when the tank isn't full.  But I guess they make enough off of "full tank" charges from people who don't notice or care that it makes financial sense to do that.  It's when businesses cease to give a shit about customers altogether that I begin to think I should be a communist.  I'm looking at you Comcast.  You might as well be a Soviet Youth League.  (No, I'm not exactly sure how being a communist would solve this problem.  But down with capitalist pigs, man.)

(Less) Random topic five: New York

I don't usually write about New York, because I live here.  But I did do some interesting things this weekend, so I'll note them briefly.

On Saturday, Ken and I went to the diamond district to browse, because we're in our late twenties and we live together, and we plan to keep doing that forever.  The internet told me that 47th Street is a terrible place filled with hawkers and very aggressive salespeople, but it really wasn't all that bad.  People will greet you and ask you what you're looking for, but I never felt pressured to buy anything.  Plus, they must get tourists all the time, so I think they can differentiate between who's planning to buy something that day versus people who are just looking.  There was, however, a single hawker who yelled at us as we were walking across the street away from him, so that was kind of bizarre.  What's the reaction he was hoping for there?  "Oh my gosh, sweetie, let's check out that store that guy is yelling at us about.  To think we almost missed it!"

Anyway, diamonds are really, really sparkly, and it's really, really weird that 90% of America's diamonds move through this one city block.

On Sunday, we went to Hudson Eats (in Brookfield Place), which is a new upscale food court near the trade center, where we ate a LOT of meat.  I got the Manly Burger from Umami Burger (though it was not very umami), and Ken got a chicken, brisket, and pulled pork (for both of us) from Mighty Quinn's.  It was very delicious.  Even when I burped later it was delicious.

View from Hudson Eats
To get there, we passed by the 9/11 memorial, which we hadn't seen before, so I guess it opened fairly recently.  It is incredible.  I am not particularly into architecture or particularly moved by any kind of art form, but this memorial was just perfectly evocative.  I highly recommend a visit.

It may not be clear in the photo, but the four sides are waterfalls, so the white line at the bottom is where the water hits the pool beneath.
The grooves are deep enough that you can leave white roses in people's names.
On both days, we happened to pass by the weekend street fair, which moves around the island seemingly at random (but I'm sure there's a schedule online somewhere).  These usually consist of stalls selling jewelry, clothing, handbags, sunglasses, and food, but sometimes have other cool handmade stuff like finger puppets or rugs or leather goods or something.

(Less) Random topic six: travels today

LaGuardia is the shittiest airport, but Delta now has restaurant style seating by their gates, meaning cushy couches in two-tops and four-tops and bar-type seating, and each seat has an iPad affixed on the table.  I think it's possible that these can only be used to order food, but I'm not positive.  Either way, it looked very fancy.

Our flight left early and arrived forty-five minutes early.  I'm not sure this has ever happened in the history of the world.

This would be an incredibly awkward but technically accurate-ish translation in Chinese (far worse than Google translate), so I hope that means something less awkward in Japanese.
The shuttle driver and the front desk rep at the Hotel Preston are both ridiculously, almost tangibly polite.  It was like they wanted nothing more than for us to be satisfied with their service.  (Imagine that, Avis.)  This is definitely not New York.  (I can tell also because it is really humid here.)

So environmentally conscious.  They even have a recycling bin in the room.