Category Archives: Peregrinations

Not So Sweet Dreams

A Play in One Act

Dramatis Personae:

 

Me: A seasoned traveler with about 4 million air miles, approved by US Global Entry, a man the police would call an “upstanding citizen.”

 

Katrinka (KT): Security supervisor at British Airways Terminal 5.

 

The Inspector (IN): British police inspector called upon when possible bomb materials are detected.

 

Plain Clothes Counter-Terrorist Official #1 (PC #1): Called by an inspector when there may be a serious threat.

 

Plain Clothes Counter-Terrorism Official #2 (PC #2): Assists PC #1.

 

Dog Handler #1 (DH #1): Controls dog with special detection skills, not revealed.

 

Dog Handler #2 (DH #2): Controls second dog with different special detection skills, not revealed.

 

Cocker Spaniel #1 (CS #1): Works with DH #1 above. Black.

 

Cocker Spaniel #2 (CS #2): Works with DH #2. Brown and white.

 

Our Drama:

 

I had finished my meeting at The Haymarket Hotel on Friday after a great week and went downstairs at 1 pm to meet my driver who was to arrive at 1:30. However, my driver also arrived at 1, so we left immediately for Heathrow Airport. The trip took exactly one hour.

 

I checked in with British Air first class, and was going to collect the VAT I was due for an item purchased while in London. However, the line was so long—over 100 people—that I calculated even if each person took only 30 seconds (which was highly improbable) I’d be on line for an hour. I wanted to buy some cigars and change my money, then have a drink in the first class lounge, so I decided to forego my refund. (Which, by the way, I think is their intent.) The money wasn’t worth my time.

 

I went into the fast track security line and was through the security machine in two minutes or so, but I noticed my carry-on bag had been diverted to another inspection. These inspections are painfully slow, but my plane was at 5, meaning I had to be at the gate by 4:40, when they close it. It was only 2:10.

 

A woman painstakingly went through my bag, took things apart, swabbed everything in sight, and then inserted things into machines. She told me I failed a test, but was using a second test which should clear things up. While I waited, KT showed up, consulted with the woman and came over to me.

 

KT: I’m afraid, sir, we have a bit of an issue, your bag is testing positive for chemical and/or explosive materials.

 

Me: What?!

 

KT: What kind of doctor are you? What medicines do you prescribe or consume? Might they rub off in your luggage?

 

Me: I’m not the kind of doctor who helps people! I’m a PhD.

 

KT: In what field.

 

Me: Psychology.

 

KT: Psychologists can prescribe medication.

 

Me: I’m not a psychologist and If I could prescribe anything, believe me, I’d be taking Valium at this very moment.

 

KT: I’m sure we can clear it up, but since you failed both tests I’m required to call the police.

 

Me: What?!

 

KT: They are very rapid and thorough, and will get here within 20 minutes. I’m sure they will put this right.

 

Me: What do they need to do to put things right?

 

KT: They will interview you. Please just wait over there with me by the podium. We’ll keep your bag here, you can retain your briefcase, and I’ll hold your passport.

 

In about 15 minutes, an officer shows up in full regalia, including bullet proof vest and two cell phones dangling from it.

 

IN: Hello, sir, I’m Inspector Peters (name changed) and I’ll have to ask you a few questions.

 

Me: Sure.

 

The inspector proceeds to ask me the same questions KT did, and also about whether my bags were ever out of my sight. As he is questioning me about my Indonesian and Chinese visas, PC #1 and PC #2 arrive. They are both talking on their phones.

 

IN: What do you do specifically if you’re not a doctor?

 

ME: I’m a consultant.

 

IN: And why are you here in London?

 

Me: Teaching other consultants.

 

IN: Hmmmm.

 

Me: Who are these other guys?

 

IN: They are counter-terrorism agents.

 

Me: What?!

 

IN: It’s all procedure. We’ll have you on your plane in plenty of time if we are happy and the dogs are happy.

 

Me: What?!

 

IN: It’s procedure, the dogs will have to sniff your bag. They are far better than the machine.

 

Me: Why dogs, plural?

 

IN: They each specialize in something the other doesn’t.

 

Me: What things?

 

IN: I can’t tell you that.

 

PC #1: May I ask you a few questions?

 

Me: Sure

 

He proceeds to ask the same questions for the third time. I note that each of them has to copy all the information from my passport longhand on pads, and they help each other spell certain items.

 

PC #1: Tell me about the kind of consulting you do. And why are you going to Miami?:

 

Me: I’m not going to Miami. I’m going to Boston.

 

PC #1 rechecks my boarding pass and confirms that I am correct about my own destination. PC #2 is now off the phone and confers with his partner.

 

Me: Everything okay?

 

PC #2: Yes, we’re happy, but we have to wait for the dogs.

 

PC #1: I used to be a consultant, you know. I worked with Oracle and lived in Redwood Shores, California.

 

Me: What!!?? I lived in Redwood Shores for two years!

 

PC #1: How about that? I was thinking of getting back into consulting some time.

 

IN: The dogs are here.

 

DH #1 and #2 arrive, #1 with a black cocker spaniel and #2 with a brown and white cocker spaniel. While they are getting set up, IN asks if there might be any kind of spray or liquid I did not put in my plastic bag.

 

Me: Yes, the hotel gives guests sprays to use at night on the pillows to help with sleeping, and I threw two into my bag.

 

IN: I’ll bet that’s it.

 

He goes over to KT, confers, and they run the machines again.

 

IN: The machines have now passed you, but the swabs found the substance in the lining of your luggage. The spray probably leaked, but it’s up to the dogs, now.

 

Me: Sleeping spray turns up on your machines as explosive materials?

 

IN: Yes, it’s happened before.

 

Me: What happens if the dogs aren’t happy?

 

IN, frowning: We need to go through additional processes.

 

With everyone now watching, they choose CS #1, who trots into the security operations where my bag is and can no longer be seen. No one is saying anything. The dog emerges in 20 seconds.

 

KT: We’re good.

 

IN: Sorry to have troubled you sir.

 

Me: What about the other dog?

 

IN: Fortunately for you, it wasn’t needed.

 

Me: Will this be a problem if I renter the UK, which I plan to do next year?

 

IN: No, but my advice is to get rid of the bag. We had a woman with the exact same problem, and she kept telling us it was a coincidence that she was always singled out. But she kept using the same bag.

 

Me to handlers and IN: Can I take the dogs’ picture? Inspector, would you like to be in the shot?

 

IN: No, you can’t take my photo, against the rules.

 

DH #1: You can’t take ours either, and you’ll have to blur the dogs’ faces.

 

Me: You’re afraid of the dogs being recognized??!!

 

DH #1: Just having a bit of humor with you, sir.

 

It was now 3 pm. The British Concorde Club was just a few feet away. I asked the bar tender to fill the nearest glass to the top with Jameson’s.

 

If the car had come at 1:30 and I had waited in the VAT line, it would probably be 4:30 at that point and a train was required to reach my distant gate, which closed at 4:40.

 

On my way to the train, I stopped in a cigar store and took a handful of the best they had. It’s not every day that you go through a human hierarchy to find that a cocker spaniel holds your fate in its nose.

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© Alan Weiss 2014

 

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Why I Love London

• The cabs are clean, can hold 5-6 people comfortably, and the drivers know where everything is. You’re lucky if you get a cab driver in New York who knows where the Empire State Building is, and the cab will stink while he yaks in a foreign language on a cell phone.

• No one honks car horns. The city is bustling, streets are crowded, but the noise level is very low.

• Harrods.

• Tipping is not an issue. It’s a pleasant surprise when given and not a disappointment when not given.

• There is a plethora of great museums, both for history and art.

• Vehicles do not block intersections, ever.

• All good restaurants have doormen and parking valets.

• I can get by until about 3 pm before anyone in the US is looking for me.

• Everyone ends sentences with polite, rhetorical questions: “Scottish independence is quite a concern, isn’t it?” (It’s actually not, from what I can see.)

• There is truly a highly diverse, global population here and no one goes around feeling they have to point this out.

• They have quite original ideas about food. Who else pickles sardines, or serves mushy peas? Fish and chips, which I thought was always cod, can be anything from mackerel to eel.

• If you’re considering a new exotic car, you’ll find every one in every color on the streets in Mayfair.

• Not once has anyone told me to “have a nice day.”

• There is a wry, caustic humor here and precious little political correctness.

• I can fly here during the day from Boston and not have to use a night and suffer a bedraggled next day. (Take British Air and not Virgin.)

• The pound is weak against the dollar at the moment.

• It reminds me how really good American television is.

 

© Alan Weiss 2014

 

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The Express Life

Up at 4:30, I found the limo idling outside at 5, both dogs oblivious to its presence, too intent on their deep sleep. I slipped into the clothes I had readied the night before like a firefighter donning turnout gear about to jump on an engine.

 

I read the papers in the penlight of the car’s rear illumination, traveling through the dark as if on a fast train. As we approached the expressway on the final leg to Boston, traffic clogged—at 5:45 am—and I wondered who in their right mind would commute like this daily when frequent train service was available.

 

Suddenly, a huge, aggressively ugly, yellow machine appeared on the left, moving past us at close quarters. This was the strange creation that moves huge cement blocks creating a high occupancy lane into the city in the morning and out again in the afternoon. My driver, sharp as a tack when most people are groggy, stopped and waited for the machine to clear our position, revealing the extra lane. We were the first vehicle on it, and sped past the hordes in the four lanes to our right, arriving at the Ted Williams Tunnel to Logan Airport only ten minutes later.

 

In another ten minutes I had checked in, cleared security, and entered the British Air First Class lounge. An hour after that I was on the 777, taxiing to the runway. I learned that the prior day’s flight was cancelled, because the plane never made it in the night prior from London, so I felt as if I had hit my number at roulette.

 

British Air service is grand, and unlike Virgin Atlantic—which has no true first class and flies only overnight on a route too short for a good sleep depositing you in London like a fish out of water—the morning departure enables you to have dinner in London and go to sleep at a normal time, so that the next day is a surge rather than a slog.

 

Breakfast in flight, then snacks, and three teleconferences prepared, one column, and parts of two books read. Traveling with just a carry-on keeps me out of baggage claim and customs, and the express pass from the airline gets me through immigration faster than many UK citizens. The limo driver meets me outside immigration, and we’re at the Haymarket Hotel less than an hour later.

It turns out a colleague who met me by accident later in the dining room for dinner had been on the same plane, but in coach. She reached the hotel an hour later than I did.

© Alan Weiss 2014

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Nantucket 2014-3

DSC_1820 - Version 2DSC_1821DSC_1826Here’s my buddy, Salvator Seal, lazing a few dozen yards off the beach. And the female contingent of the family preparing for sprinkler tag after dinner af fresco and before sunset. After the Super Moon Sunday, how is this for a sunset on Monday?

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Nantucket 2014-2

We dined at The Pearl last night, where we’ve been going since it opened. We were joined by our friend Julie who’s spending a couple of days with us and enjoyed hamachi and then soft shell crab with noodles, along with a Chassagne Montrechet.

The best, after a wonderful beach day, was the “super moon” hovering over the convertible as we drove back from town to the beach house. (A super moon is a full moon that occurs during the closest approach to the earth in the moon’s orbit.) The night sky was lighted by what looked like a giant Chinese lantern. Down the beach, someone was setting off impressive fireworks.

Just a slight breeze yesterday, with a huge seal cavorting 30 yards off shore for a couple of hours, head bobbing above the surface like a living periscope, then disappearing to catch some fish, I’m guessing. Other than that, a woman taking “selfies” for about a half-hour in every conceivable position, rearranging her hair and other attributes for each shot, and a dog with its own umbrella.

Another day at the beach.

© Alan Weiss 2014

Selfie woman.

Selfie woman.

Umbrella dog.

Umbrella dog.

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Nantucket 2014-1

We’ve arrived for our two-week sojourn, following Bali, and the Jersey Shore. We are eclectic people.

The trip to the ferry which should be 90 minutes (to Hyannis) took 2.5 hours. There were eight-mile backups at the Cape. I still don’t know why. The ferry was 10 minutes late leaving, a rarity, as frantic last-minute arrivals swarmed the ticket office. (It is VERY difficult to get a car on a ferry during the season without a reservation dating back to February.) Every single vehicle around us was an SUV, and while you’re about to tell me that’s the practical way to do it, they all look like ants in a colony headed for food. Boring.

But here we are. As is our 20-year habit, we dined at Topper’s (named after a dog) at the Wauwinet on the opposite side of the island. For those of you who follow me on Vivino, we had a superb Harlan Estate. The food was great and there are few things I know of to equal a 70-degree night, riding through winding, narrow roads under the stars, in a convertible.

This morning is lovely, and I am preparing for the 20-yard trip to the beach.

Lost in the SUV swarm.

Lost in the SUV swarm.

 

Daybreak, overlooking the pool.

Daybreak, overlooking the pool.

 

Calm morning ocean.

Calm morning ocean.

 

Entering the bay.

Entering the bay.

 

A beach near the town.

A beach near the town.

 

Docking.

Docking.

© Alan Weiss 2014

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When Your Audience Is Clearly Tired of Listening

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Point Pleasant Beach

Point Pleasant Beach, NJ

July 21

 

It’s 6:30 in the morning, and I’m sitting on a small beach chair on our terrace overlooking the Atlantic, which is so serene it’s as if it’s asking permission to come on shore. There’s a light drizzle falling despite the newly-arisen sun, which is why I’m not using the regular furniture out here, but rather cowering under an eave with my lap top.

 

We dined with the family last night in a local landmark, Graziano’s, which has good but not great old-fashioned southern Italian food. The owner herself personally cooks only on Sunday, which she’s done for 47 years, and is a good reason to avoid the place. I was wondering why it was unusually unoccupied until it took over an hour for our meals to appear. The regulars obviously know this. She’s the owner, she can do that if she wants to, but decent food doesn’t overcome extraordinary ineptitude.

 

I bought a “credit card” for $40 at one of the arcades last night, which I can swipe in any of hundreds of machines in our insatiable quest to win the granddaughters 100,000,000 points so that they can buy a A380 for free. It’s a funny sequence: You swipe the card to play the game, the game upchucks tickets for the points you acquire, you then take the tickets (thousands of them bound in a long train) to the ticket-eating machine, which gobbles them up like some kind of rejected creature from the Muppets, and then issues a credit slip, which you take the counter where a human writes you a “check” for the credits which can be used for years (I kid you not). I get my kicks from the ticket-eating machine which is both bizarre and frightening, and I’ve been known to tell small kids in line that I was there before them even though I’m really referring to being on earth before them.

 

The economy is thriving. For the past two years here we’ve seen “vacancy” signs and easily negotiable crowds on the boardwalk and piers. No longer—all the signs are “no vacancy,” traffic is much thicker, and the boardwalk is jammed. These beach resorts are the destination of middle class America (and the odd Canadians who keep apologizing for bumping into you even when it wasn’t them) and people are clearly spending again. (It’s not cheap to come for a long weekend or a week, counting gas, lodging, food (even casual food), beach passes, rentals, games, rides, souvenirs, and so forth.

 

The rain is letting up, and the 1,876th jogger/runner has passed my perch (no bikes allowed). I admire their intent and I’m sure they have the goal of maintaining this exercise post-vacation, but that isn’t going to happen for most of them. That’s because they mostly return to “work” and “jobs,” wherein I don’t have to, because my career is involved with making these kinds of observations.

 

And now I’m done.

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© Alan Weiss 2014

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Departing Bali

It’s a gorgeous morning here (we’re 12 hours ahead of the eastern US) and we’re off to breakfast and the pool. We leave tonight on the 8 pm flight to Singapore, then to Dubai, and home to Boston.

Bali’s people are fantastic, very cordial, and extremely helpful. The streets are clogged with mind-numbing, demolition-derby motorbikes of all sorts, some with infants wedged between parents, some driven by what appear to be 12-year-old girls in school uniforms heading to class. They weave in an out between busses and cars, often on the wrong side of the road, usually with inches to spare. I’m stunned I’ve seen no one hit.

We dined last evening in Mulia, one of the super resorts here, that occupy vast amounts of land on the water. The restaurant was Table 8, and the resort and restaurant have won a slew of awards, including best new offerings in Asia. The restaurant was odd—beautiful decor, but with a buffet as well as set menu, amidst the elegance, and very casual diners, including tables of young kids scrambling over their parents. The wine list was very limited, though I found a nice estate Rioja from 2001.

The food was marvelous, but the place gave the impression of confused intent, with dozens of employees standing idly behind a little used buffet.

DSC_1762IMG_2333© Alan Weiss 2014

 

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Bali

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One of the infinity pools at the Four Seasons, Bali; roadside market; large and modern Catholic church where we attended vigil mass celebrated in Indonesian; and a superb restaurant, Merah Putih (suckling pig, prawns, boneless duck) where those lighted columns conduct rain water from the roof through the restaurant, fascinating design.

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