Friday, May 26, 2017

Ecuador Slim

When Tom challenged me to a game of pool I told him it had been years----.

"No problem," he said. "You break."

"You sure?"

"Yep. Go for it."


In high school I did well in geometry. But there's quite a difference between solving an equation and determining the angle and speed of your shot. Applying "English" to the ball is perhaps the only time when my Spanish skills are superior.

As I struck the cue ball I discovered a similarity between my pool and golf games--the nagging tendency to take my eye off the ball and raise my head at the moment of impact. This causes you to "top" the ball instead of hitting it dead center.

The result of my vicious thrust of the cue stick was a slow motion curve ball that missed the triangular mass of balls completely and wandered into the right corner pocket.

We both laughed as Tom fished out the errant white "weapon of miss destruction" and told me to do it again.

I steadied myself, zipped the cue stick forward and achieved the exact same result, only this time with impressive velocity.

Now we were both doubled over and howling with laughter. Who knew pool could be this entertaining?

A third time I literally gave it a shot and---success!

Sort of.

My cue ball indeed made contact, but so lightly that the triangular formation of balls appeared to merely exhale. One who was watching this display of ineptitude and knew nothing about the game would have assumed the term "break" had some perversely opposite meaning. Because the object was obviously to treat the other balls as if they were eggs, and one should either miss them entirely or exhibit the superior skill of touching them very gently so that they don't in fact "break."

At this point tears were flowing and our jaws ached from laughing so hard. At least the game was finally underway.

I knew that to make a ball go to the right, for example, I needed to strike it left of center. But how far to the left? And at what speed? I kept guessing wrong, and in short order Tom had only a few balls left while most of mine were still littering the table.

This "strategy" would later work to my advantage, but right now I faced an additional challenge beyond the fact that I couldn't seem to get my balls to go into the holes. My "easiest" shot was right up against the edge of the table, forcing me to stand awkwardly with the back of a sofa right behind me.

I'll admit that alcohol was part of the evening, but the quantity of consumption wasn't sufficient for what happened next. Which was that after my shot (which also didn't go in) I lost my balance and did a back somersault, cue stick in hand, over the couch.

In relating this episode I just stopped to look up synonyms for "laughter," and there simply aren't words to describe the level of intensity our merriment had reached. The hooting and hollering as I lay there sprawled on the floor still holding that damn cue stick were simply epic.

To no one's surprise Tom polished off the game and perhaps out of pity offered to play another (with him breaking this time). I inadvertently unveiled my version of Muhammad Ali's Rope-a-Dope ploy by failing to sink hardly any balls, then by accident leaving the cue ball in a position at the end where he had no shot on the eight ball.

He missed and said, "Well, you won."

My celebratory comment was a confused, "Huh?"

At this point we opted to call the evening a friendly tie and go to bed.

All these antics earned me the nickname Ecuador Slim for the remainder of our visit. It's a moniker I'll treasure along with the lifelong memory of two grown men laughing at a silly game like little kids.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Driving Ms. Cynthia

After mud wrestling with Priceline for days I'd finally secured a reservation on a mid-sized car for only $13 a day. It's not that the regular rate was crazy expensive for the few days we would be needing a vehicle. Nor did I outsmart the system. Like with buying wine in the previous post, I simply persisted.

I didn't have long to celebrate my victory before I received an email from our hosts in Atlanta offering us the use of one of their cars during our stay. Since this freed up funds from the budget to share better-than-CVS wine with them I gratefully accepted and cancelled the rental reservation.

The car we were to use was pretty fancy and Tom carefully explained all of its features, including the push button start in lieu of a key. Afterwards we seemed ready to go, so I pushed the button as instructed.


"What's wrong? It didn't start."

"You've got to put your foot on the brake. That's how you start cars with a button."

"Lighten up, bro. Remember, I don't drive."

I noticed a change in Tom's expression as the reality of what I said, that his expensive vehicle was about to be driven away by, well---me, sunk in.

As I fiddled with adjusting the mirrors, seat, and steering wheel he came to the window and asked, "Is everything OK?"

"Yes, everything's fine. Relax, dude. I'll be extra careful, and I've got my co-pilot along to keep me straight."

As I backed out of the driveway Cynthia and I joked that he was probably calling his insurance company to increase the coverage.

Tom also kindly offered us his phone to use for navigation but this we declined. We've never had smartphones and weren't comfortable depending on unfamiliar technology to get us around. Instead we depended on the old fashioned methodology that had served us in the past.

No, not an unfolded paper road map like we used many times before personal computers. I went to Google Maps and printed out directions to each of our destinations. There's something reassuring to us about seeing the entire journey in black and white. Every turn and even the distance between each change in direction is right there in front of you before the trip even begins, as opposed to depending on some chick you've never met parsing it out one piece at a time. Especially when driving in the dark, "In 900 feet turn right on----" is too suspenseful for us.

The great news is that everything worked out just fine. We arrived at each stop on time without ever getting lost. Except that first night we came back to Tom and Brenda's an hour later than expected. I told him with a wink I had a hard time finding a body shop to repair the damage late on a Saturday.

He smiled but-----.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

You CAN Always Get What You Want

It seemed like a simple enough idea--go pick up a bottle of chardonnay to enjoy in our hotel room and sparkling wine to celebrate the end of the conference. Google Maps showed a liquor store nearby so off I went.

While confirming the directions with the bell captain, he shared that there was another place closer to the hotel in the opposite direction. Sounds good to me. The closer the better.

A block and a half away there it is. Perfect. I'll be back putting that chard on ice in minutes.

The store is small and so is the wine section. The selection is straight from the bottom shelf of a grocery store. We're by no means wine snobs, but while Cynthia prefers a buttery chardonnay, our choices in Ecuador might as well be labeled "lactose-free," so to please her I was aiming a little higher.

I'd noticed a second store a block further down the street so I meandered down there for a look. Amazingly, even worse than the place I just left.

OK, then on to the original location I found on the computer. It was a hike from my current location and the weather was a bit hot but I was not to be deterred. I arrived and walked into the smallest, crummiest excuse for a liquor store I have ever seen. This place was for hard core clientele seeking higher alcohol content and offered maybe five total bottles of wine, none of which were remotely drinkable.

Wow. Only one option left--go all the way back to the first store. This episode reminded me too much of daily life in Ecuador, where finding things often requires visits to multiple stores. But in Atlanta?? Never expected to be wandering the downtown streets in search of such a simple purchase.

Getting a quizzical look from the proprietor upon my re-entry, I grabbed the best bottle I saw and turned it around to check the price. Earlier I'd dissed the choices so quickly I hadn't even bothered, which I suddenly discovered was a big mistake.

$28?!? For at best a $10 bottle???

It's not that I couldn't afford it, but I just couldn't bring myself to voluntarily be ripped off so badly. I left frustrated and defeated, knowing what would be said as soon as I opened the door to our hotel room:


Walking back I kept trying to remember something. "Cynthia, we haven't been that many places today. Where did we see wine for sale?"

"At the CVS up the street. Next to the section where we were buying cards. You should have just gone there."

Of course I should have gone there--if I had remembered where there was------.


Shoes back on. Back out the door to the damn drugstore of all places. Decent chardonnay and better than average prosecco (at prices only slightly above the grocery) a few minutes later, we're finally in business.

Lesson relearned. No matter where you are, sometimes you've gotta keep going to get what you want. And in downtown Atlanta, the best wine shop is CVS----.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

I Don't Speak Starbucks

I enjoy a couple of cups of coffee each morning. Except for an occasional glass of iced tea at lunch I'm done with caffeine for the day. Meeting someone for a coffee? Nah. Coffee with dessert? Never.

And those cups of coffee are just that--cups filled with coffee. No cream or sugar for me, thank you.

I mention this because we're currently at a hotel in Atlanta for a conference, and while our room is equipped with a coffee pot, the coffee that is provided by most hotel chains, including this one, is pretty awful.

This means a mandatory visit to the Starbucks in the lobby. As odd as it may seem, moving to Ecuador where the primary language is of course Spanish has prepared me for this daily event. Why? Because just as I arrived in our new home with minimal Spanish skills, I find whenever I'm in one of these establishments that I speak minimal "Starbucks." Which could potentially signal a problem.

Right off the bat I see that the smallest cup they have is called "Tall." That's like calling me, at 6'3", short. I mean, seriously, where do you go from there?

Downhill is where.

I hear the people in front of me in line barking out orders concerning how many pumps of this. How much foam of that. I just want a damn cup of coffee.

I admit, I used to be intimidated by all this foreign jargon. When I was asked to get orders to go for my daughter and wife I made them write everything down so I wouldn't forget something or mix up the words before I got to the "Welcome to Starbucks---" part of the process.

But as I've gotten into the rhythm of what's actually going on I notice that all these "special order" people are standing around forever waiting for the baristas (Is that really what you call a coffee person? Does that mean that a McDonald's employee is a hamburgerista? Or a BigMacerista? Come on. How far removed is that from a janitor being a "sanitation engineer?) to pump and foam their beverage while I get my unadulterated venti (Really? Who are we kidding here?) cup of java and am outta there.

So now I confidently and fearlessly walk up and say, "I'd like a large cup of coffee to go, please." And you know what? I get a large coffee to go. Quickly. While all those other folks are waiting for their pumped and foamed whatever's.

I often joke that I'm fluent in Spanish when it comes to ordering food and getting home, which are the two main things I need to do when I exit my door. Looks like my Starbucks fluency has progressed to a sufficient level as well.