Monday, July 7, 2008

Where in the world is Plebian?

A few months ago my daughter came home from school and told me that the Grand Canyon was just a big hole in the ground, like Chernobyl without the nuclear waste. That was when I realized that European life was having a deleterious effect on my family. The solution?

A cross-country trip by car, akin to that chronicled in the documentary National Lampoon’s Vacation. Hopefully minus a dead relative tied to the top of the car, but that was a risk I was willing to take.

Wifey told me that I was crazy. Well, to be honest, she tells me that often, but this time she seemed serious about it. But since she couldn’t come up with any better vacation idea, and I got the children excited about going on a long car ride by bribing them, we decided to take the plunge and drive across the country.

Whether or not this was a wise idea when gas prices are spiraling out of control, I leave up to the reader.

You discover a lot of interesting things when you travel. Not just dead bodies and crazy hoboes, either. Sometimes you see naked people cavorting in pools.

It is with this in mind that I have committed myself to documenting the travels of my family throughout the American West. You see, I don’t want to just run a humor blog, I want it to be educational.

The problem with taking my family on a tour of the American West, though, is that we don’t live near the West. We don’t even live near America. So we had to hop a plane to fly across the pond.

So today’s chronicle of the first day focuses on things you can learn on a transatlantic flight.

Fact #1: Even when you ask for a cab with space for four people and their suitcases, sometimes you get the first asshole on the cabbie list. At least, that’s the only explanation I can think of for why we ended up with a guy driving a Citroen Speck.

If you’ve never seen one of these things, they’re large enough to fit three people so long as none of them have had Mexican food for lunch and they all like each other fairly well. We’re family, but we made do anyway.

Once aboard the plane (after the routine security screening that involved turning your head and coughing), I got pretty excited. Every seat had a personal video device, and since it was an 8-hour flight the routine charges were waived. Free cheap headphones and movies for everybody!

Now, on planes, Wifey always sits with our little darlings. She doesn’t do this because she loves them; she does this because your average European smells like he hasn’t bathed since the seventies and he spends his free time shoveling manure into urine-filled pools.

Okay, they don’t smell that bad. They smell worse.

So she took the seats with the kids, and I sat next to what I assumed was a woman and her teenage son. Judging from the makeout session at 4:20 minutes into the flight, I had that wrong, but still, they didn’t smell bad, so I could live with it.

Fact #2: Wifey has a superpower. Unfortunately, it’s neither of the money-making nor sexy variety. Rather, her superpower is the uncanny ability to disrupt the electrical system in airplane personal video devices. This power has a one-seat radius, and we only discovered it after we took off and she shorted out the video units in her seat, the girl’s seat, and my son’s seat, and the seats of the people behind her.

Scary stuff, huh?

My screen worked fine. I entered the all-plane trivia contest and dominated it, kicking butt so seriously that people would join, score ten points for every hundred I got, and give up in desperation, probably to go drinking to dull the sting of failure that haunted their very existence.

I switched with her, because I’m that kind of husband and because she promised to make it worth my while. As soon as she was gone, the boy’s screen started working and he began enjoying Teen Titans. The best part? He was sure to tell his sister how much he was enjoying them.

In response, she called me derogatory names I didn’t realize she understood.

Ultimately, in addition to father-daughter bonding, the seat switch managed to allow me to do one of my favorite things: Euro-watch.

Fact #3: European pimps don’t have nearly the style that American Pimps do. There was a guy dressed in your typical Euro-trash effeminate clothing: open-collar white shirt, tight pants, woman’s bracelet, Flock of Seagulls vintage haircut, and designer leather purse slung over the shoulder. I try not to judge, but day-um.

I learned that even effete-looking late-80’s hairstyled Euro-trash guys can be real men, though, judging from the parade of 18-21 year-old hotties dressed in Modern Tramp that came to visit him throughout the flight. By the time we arrived, it was me feeling emasculated by the European version of Velvet Jones.

Fact #4: Payback is hell. After years of being the butt of comedian’s jokes, airlines have decided to strike back with their meal service. It’s as if Satan’s Cook came up with Hell’s Menu, but then the airline said “we don’t want anything that good; just throw some crap together.”

Why not just chicken nuggets and fruit? Everybody loves chicken nuggets. But no, that would be too simple. They have to have food that’s “inspired” by something. When food is inspired, it’s usually crap.

They served us chicken choked in red syrup, with a side of potatoes that were either mashed, boiled in pond water, or both. I couldn’t tell. I heard rumors of a pasta dish, but since nobody wanted Chicken Crapatori they ran out before they got to me.

But that was not the worst thing they served us. That dubious honor goes to the “snack” just before landing, which was spinach pizza. I don’t suppose that any readers have ever had spinach pizza, because it is something only eaten by psychopaths and the criminally insane.

It is so bad that to serve it in prison would constitute cruel and unusual punishment. But on an airplane it’s inspired. I, personally, was inspired to vomit.

Fact #5: Cruisin 4: World Tour Rocks! Generally video games that cost a dollar to play are a total ripoff, but this game was awesome. I played it in JFK during our five-hour layover. The best part of the game was when I got to hit a pink VW flower-power bus and send it rolling into a ravine. Dirty filthy hippies deserved it. If you could do this in real life, there’d be a lot less road rage among normal people.

Like DeathRace 2000, except you get points for running over hippies. Imagine how many tickets to Woodstock 3 they’d sell then! And if in the home version you could get a special Dumpster Muffin splatter add-in, this game would be worth millions.

Fact #6: Rosa Parks did not fly Delta. After the layover we were finally ready for the last leg of our journey, a four-hour flight to Salt Lake City. Once we’d gotten onto the plane, I noticed something very strange about the seating arrangements. It was a segregated plane.

In the back there were lots of Mormon missionaries returning home to SLC. In addition to your requisite group of clean-cut young men and women, one of them looked like a crocodile in a dress. I didn’t know the Mormons were so inclusive.

For three rows in front of the Mormons we had a large group of foreigners, who all spoke the same guttural Slavic language and practically no English. It was the place that drink service goes to die.

In front of them there was a small sliver of unsuccessful bloggers and their families, and then in front of that, poorly-dressed college students taking advantage of the long weekend.

Once again, Wifey’s superpower kicked in, and she discovered that in a plane full of people happily watching movies she had nothing but a blank screen. So, once again, being the good husband I traded with her. This time, I’d wisely taken the seat next to the children, so that after we switched they were her problem.

Hey, I’m a good husband, but I’m not Michael Landon. I have my limits.

This turned out not to have been a great idea, because the guy behind me was busy typing the great American novel on his touchpad screen one fierce keystroke at time. It was like Hemingway meets Keith Olbermann, and all he had to watch was Bill O’Reilly.

Fact #7: Colleges don’t teach children anything worth learning any more. Since my screen was dead, and my seatmate only spoke a language that sounds like pigs arguing over scraps, I ended up watching the college boozer in front of Wifey play the trivia game. You will remember that I had found great success on the trivia game earlier, so I was eager to see how he did.

The first sign of trouble was that he had lots of trouble entering his player name, Krasy. Seems simple enough to type, but between him desperately searching for the alphabetically-arranged letters and entering every one twice, it took him several minutes to complete this mundane task.

Then the real humiliation started. The game works by giving you more points if you answer sooner. So if you don’t know the answer at all, it’s in your favor to hit any response to have the 25% chance of getting lots of points.

Krasy, though, took a different approach: he preferred to stare stupidly at the screen until time had wound down to 50 points, then hit a button just in time to get 0 points. He was also wrong almost every time.

The few times he was right, he racked up…zero points.

The depth of his ignorance ranged from the Korean War to Greek Cities to popular culture. I never did see the subject that he displayed any real proficiency with, other than quitting the game because he was getting pummeled.

I thought about offering to train him, like the old guy from Rocky, to help turn him into a quiz master. But then I decided that I’d have better luck teaching a dog to fly or getting a European to bathe regularly. And each would wind up worth more money.

Fact #8: Salt Lake City is the safest city in the US. After we’d waded through the six-deep throng welcoming the missionary crocodile, we discovered that two of our five suitcases had taken the earlier flight and were already waiting for us on the belt. Now, if we’d been flying to somewhere like LA or New York or Atlanta, it’s likely our bags would have been stolen and a group of thugs would have been waiting to jump us and steal the rest of our belongings.

But since this was SLC, the bags were just waiting for us calmly on the belt. And very quickly we had the rest of our bags and were off to the car rental place.

Have I mentioned that we’d been up 24 hours straight by this point?

The car rental went quickly, with the Somali guy not batting an eye at my European license and quickly giving me my Japanese car to drive on my tour of America. What a country!

Fact #9: The Salt Lake Airport Hilton sucks. I’d reserved (some time ago) a two-bed no-smoking room. The guy behind the desk, who looked like a deflated version of Chris Farley, told me he was fresh out of no smoking rooms with two beds.

“I can give you a king bed room!” He said.

“What good does that do me?”

“It’s smoking, though.”

“I think it’s probably legal to kill him,” Wifey suggested.

“I’m sure it’s not,” I said.

“I have a king bed with a pullout, but it’s also smoking,” he said not so helpfully. “And I also have a queen bed, but it’s smoking too.”

“If you don’t kill him, I’m going to kill somebody,” Wifey said.

“Why don’t you have the room I reserved?” I asked.

“Because I’m all out,” he said.

“Someone will die soon,” Wifey said. “There will be blood.”

“I think I’m gonna go check another hotel,” I said. “For your own safety.”

Just as I was leaving the reception area, he yelled out “Wait! I found one!”

“You found a two-bed no smoking room?”

“Oh, yeah, that’s right,” he said. “It was smoking.”

“Can I at least cripple him?” Wifey begged. “Just a little?”

Fortunately, before any violence was levied, we found a two-bed king suite in the Holiday Inn.

Everyone survived, but only barely.

Tomorrow: The best damn restaurant in Salt Lake City


Gabriel Malor said...

Keep 'em comin'.

Alice H said...

OK, you've got me hooked.

Anonymous said...

This is an epic post that deserves to become a classic. Wonderful narration...


mesablue said...

What happens if you get to the Grand Canyon and it's just a big hole in the ground?

Kate said...

I'm doomed! I actually LIKE spinach pizza. :/