March 27, 2009
I love traveling. I love observing the differences, the similarities, and everything in-between.
For the last week I’ve been working in our Microsoft office in Israel. One cool thing is that our badges work everywhere. It’s kind of odd to walk up to a building eight thousand miles away from home, swipe your badge: “Boop – Green Light”.
(On the subject of badges, here’s a story that I’ve heard about an old-school Microsoft manager. When told that they didn’t give enough positive feedback, they replied:
“Positive feedback? Positive feedback? I give you positive feedback every morning. Every morning, when you walk up to the door and swipe your badge, you get the green light. Isn’t that positive feedback enough?”)
Israel is an interesting place. Service comes from a totally different frame. The customer is *absolutely* not always right.
The first night after arriving, we were looking for a place to eat. We went down to the concierge to ask for a recommendation. He asked what we’d like to eat – we told him “Meat, Hummous, Kebabs, that sort of thing.”
“Oh, you want to go to Benny the Fisherman – very good. They have meat too.”
We go to “Benny the Fisherman” – known for the finest of meats in all of Tel Aviv.
We walk in, sit down, and the waitress walks over after a bit.
“So, what do you want to eat?”
(Israel, even though it is an English speaking country, is fiercely, loyally, a country of Hebrew speakers. It is not uncommon for signs and menus to be only in Hebrew. This restaurant did not have English menus – this was the reason for the question.)
Thinking that we were going to a place featuring meat (oddly named after a fisherman), we said:
“Well, meat, kebabs, salad?”
“Eh? What, no fish? You come here, you don’t want fish?”
Eyeroll. Dismissive hand wave.
“We have fish. You want fish, I will bring it.”
Me: “Can I have some meat too?”
“After the fish. I will bring it. You will see. You will like it.”
What, is Sam I Am our server?
We were given meat after two fish courses, begrudgingly.
“The fish was good, no?”
I’m not sure they liked me.
It added insult to injury that as we were there, it started to pour. Biblically. (It is the land of the Bible after all). On the way out the door, while trying to run for the door, I planted my left foot, starting to run, and it slipped out from underneath me, dumping me unceremoniously on my meat-eating ass.
I’ll eat the fish next time, I promise.
While there, our local team had scheduled a team event which included a walking tour of Old Tel Aviv. We got to hear about how Tel Aviv came to be, built by five original families from the sand outside of Jaffa. Interesting…
There were less interesting bits. It turned out that a highlight of the trip was the stop in front of the tourguide’s childhood apartment house.
For fifteen minutes we got to hear about all of the neighbors, where they came from, where they are now. All the time, I was wondering, what the point was – who famous was there? How had this house played into the founding of Old Tel Aviv?
Not in the slightest. Really.
We did hear about the elderly neighbor from across the street. Her house was described as an exact replica of her childhood home in Poland, but with the addition of a Star of David over the door. Invited over for Easter, she ignored the advice where to sit, and sat in the seat in front of the bowl of very hot horseradish. After sitting down, she asked what this dish was exactly, and was told it was very hot horseradish, and that it should only be eaten sparingly, and later with the main course. She blissfully ignored the advice, got a big spoonful, and took it in whole.
Her face was said to explode in a cataclysm of gagging and spitting. The party’s attempts at reviving her with water and matzo were not enough. The neighbor did not speak to them for five months. (Not four, not six – five. Seven would have been more locally appropriate).
Look, I was paying attention to this story. This story was a load of crap.
First off, it’s a Jewish neighborhood. Our tour guide was Jewish – she said as much.
Other problems with story:
– Invited over for Easter. Yes, Easter. Not Passover. Jews do not celebrate Easter. They celebrate Passover.
– Sitting places. Again, this is a Passover thing. See above.
– Horseradish. This is a *staple* of the Seder. I’ve been to two Seder meals in my life and I know this. How the neighbor from across the street did not know about this, given that she too was Jewish (Star of David on the house), is beyond me.
– Matzo. Another proof point of the non-Easterness. Does the Easter Bunny bring Matzo? NO! Unleavened bread… leave the house quickly…. It’s Passover!
Anyway, on our walking tour we stopped at a number of small food places, which was cool. We got to experience the oddly named “Hummous Sticks” – which are like potato sticks made out of dried mashed chickpea and tahini. I need to increment the Crappy Look Counter after going there though, the elderly lady at the front looked me up, down, up, down, and then went “Beah!”. I think I need to rename it the “Crappy Look and Beah! Counter”. We also had some fresh marzipan, which was melt-in-your-mouth yummy. No crappy looks.
Anyway… the actual walk was fun and the commentary while odd, was at least blog-fodder.
Our flight out was at 10:30pm, and keeping with the tradition of Israeli airport arrival, we planned to get there at about 7pm. (Really, you need to leave that much time). After spending a lovely hour and a half getting through the pre-security, bag security, checkin, passport control, and gate security lines, we were through.
At the airport we had a last Israeli meal of pita, hummous and schwarma at “Cumin”, which was a far better choice than Kosher McDonalds.
Traveling brings out interesting traits in people. I’ve seen some pretty selfless behavior, but also some super wacky behavior too. In my humble experience, elderly travelers can be *the worst*. We were in the passport check line, waiting, when an elderly eastern European woman and her husband got in the adjoining line. (I saw her passport cover). She quickly sidled over to half-cut in front of me. I saw it coming.
As the line moved forward, she inched forward – cutting further into line, while her husband proceeded in the adjoining line. Like no one was noticing.
As the lined moved to its conclusion, with a big kerfuffle, she tapped her husband on the shoulder, and dramatically moved fully in front of me. Look, we had been in this line and others for an hour and a half and I was done.
I tapped her on her shoulder….
“Excuse me. You were in that line with your husband. You cut in front of me. Move back to your line.”
Oh, the Crappy Looks….
Then, a grumble fest from the other line-standers “Yeah… no cutting….”
Shockingly, she complied.
Other line-standers turned around and smiled at me, like I had fought some silent injustice that they themselves had suffered silently.
Thirteen plus flight hours later, we arrived into Atlanta….
It’s fun to travel – love the food – but after that long of a flight, comfort food is needed. I found to my delight that in the Atlanta Airport, in Terminal A is a Dunkin’ Donuts.
“Large iced regular please….”
“give me back my samwich songs”
M() is the #1 search hit for this on Google! I have *arrived*….
“trangender best way to get rid of a bear”
I didn’t know that trans-people had different methods to get rid of bears. This will require more investigation.
No kidding. Who searches for this stuff?
March 23, 2009
Lots of our friends have iPhones. Samwich remembers which ones do, and tends to see them, give big smooches, and then go for the phone. He’s a “Bubblewrap” addict.
Last week, after absconding with our friend Angie’s phone, he demonstrated that he not only loved the games, but was able to navigate (back, and the direct flick motion).
Anh gave me this look like:
“Are you going to deny our son any longer?”
We talked about it, and decided to get a family iPod Touch, and load educational apps on it.
I went to the local Apple store to get it, feeling genuinely sheepish, given my overall attitude on buying “local” (i.e., Microsoft stuff).
I walked in, and was greeted by a super perky Apple greeter.
“Hey, can I help you.” (I loved the casual “Hey” – very Cupertino).
“Yes, I’d like to buy an iPod Touch, 32 gb please.”
“Ok, all of our experts are busy, but one should free up in ten minutes or so.”
DAMMIT! I don’t want to hang in this place any longer than necessary.
“I don’t need help. I just want to buy one. Can I do that?”
“Yes, but I can’t do it. You need to wait. What’s your name, and I’ll get you on our list.”
“Ok, well, just enjoy the store, and we’ll call you as soon as someone can help you.”
Enjoy the store…. Yeah, like a million pins poking me…..
I was able to acquire the goods, and called Anh:
“I have the package.”
I brought it home, set it up, copied over a bunch of content, and got a few apps for Samwich.
He loves them, and he can really use it.
Technically, it’s a beautiful device, no doubt.
Samwich gets the direct connection of touching stuff on the screen and a result. The touch effect is so much more learnable than the indirect model that the keyboard/mouse/pen combo on other devices.
I hope he lets me borrow it sometimes.
When in LA with Peri a few weeks ago we went to The Bazaar at the SLS Hotel. It’s a new (opened in December ’08) Jose Andres restaurant. This was his first LA restaurant – his other places are in DC. He was recently (2008) on “No Reservations” with Anthony Bourdain for his restaurant “minibar” (in DC).
It was one of the top 5 meals that I’ve had in the past year.
The menu is an eclectic combination of traditional Spanish tapas, and playfully re-imagined modern plates.
I’m a fan of a nice Mojito. They had two on the menu – regular, and “Magic”. Of course, I got the Magic one… What makes it Magic? Well, they first bring a martini glass overflowing with cotton candy, and pour the Mojito less-sugar over the cotton candy. The candy melts, making the Mojito complete (not to sweet even!).
Three other favorites: rice (risotto) with field mushrooms and two types of caprese salad.
Now, the first type of caprese had cuvee’ed cherry tomatoes, served with little balls of mozzarella, all served over lovely pesto. When you took a spoon with a tomato, mozzarella and pesto, it just melted.
The second type of caprese was even more funky – instead of mozzarella balls, the liquid was put in a pipette, and you put the tomato in your mouth, then squirted the pipette in. Lovely.
Go… order lots of stuff. It was fun, funky, and yummy.
We were in Napa a few weekends ago for some eating and drinking with friends. My friend Hillel took a bunch of pictures, and got this one.
I like it. I was super happy at that moment, and I’ll always remember it fondly.
I stepped into the 21st century recently and got a smart phone. No, not an iPhone, a Samsung Windows Mobile phone. While at the Verizon store, I saw someone who I had worked with a ton, but hadn’t seen in a while. Let’s call her “Sue”.
I walked up to her, big smile, and said “Hey Sue, how are you? Long time no see!”
She looked at me, looked around, looked past me for the person who said that, and then looked at me, straight in the eye and said
“I’m sorry…. I don’t know you.”
“Really? It’s Megan, we used to work together.”
Both a little scared and annoyed: “No, really. I don’t know who you are.”
The dude behind the counter was listening now. Very interested. I didn’t want to out myself like this, so I leaned over to Sue, and whispered to her
“Sue, it’s Michael. I transitioned.”
I leaned back and smiled warmly, as Sue is just a super nice person, and I felt bad that I had surprised her.
Her face quickly changed from blank to a huge smile, and she cocked her head to the side, and put her arms up to give me a big hug, which I obliged.
“You look great!”
“Thanks…. “ sheepishly… “you didn’t know?”
“No, no one told me….”
We caught up a little, she had to run, I had to run. We later friended on Facebook.
I still see Michael when I look in the mirror, I guess that’s not the case for most everyone else.
Happy and Sad.
Read in an email from a friend and a frequent blog reader:
“I’ve liked the little stories you have written lately. It’s like Trans-prarie Home Companion.”
I thought I’d share.
March 15, 2009
Last weekend I brought Peri to American Girl Place in Los Angeles as a birthday present for her. She had been asking to go to one for the last three years at least, and honestly now at 11, it’s not clear how many more years she’d love to go at all (least of all with a parental unit).
“Filled with awesome-full-ness!” is how she described it.
While Peri and I were waiting in line at one point, one of the salesladies behind the counter said to us:
“Let me guess….. Mother and Daughter! I never get this wrong!”
Peri shoots me this smirky look like, “Oh lordy…”
If only the saleslady knew *why* she was smirking.
\The saleslady continues:
“I bet you both get this all the time – you look like peas in a pod.”
Peri is on smirkfactor 9.
“Cut from the same cloth.”
Me (in my inside voice): Its Dr. O’s best work!
Me (Outside Voice): “Thanks so much!”
Saleslady: “Have a nice day ladies!”
Peri, even though she calls me “Daddy” all the time, is aware enough to not correct someone in that circumstance. I wonder if that will be one of the memories that she has of that place.