Monthly Archives: February 2015

♫ Call five-eight-eight-two-three hundred advertising! ♫ Driving adventures in America!

Last Wednesday night my wife was overdosing on home improvement shows and I was at the tail end of a 12 pack of good old American beer.

Which means sadly, I was really sober.

This is on "The Learning Channel."

“Buying Naked” is on The Learning Channel. Let that sink in

Yes, we were back in America and we were celebrating — sort of.

It was a clandestine, quick, ninja-like trip home that only a few trusted agents knew about because the mission here in the good old U.S. of A. afforded no time for shenanigans, no time for visits, no time for drunken romps with old friends, and only time for one strip club visit.

There was no time for anything, but business.

I literally had to tie a leash on my wife’s belt loops during a trip to Target. If I hadn’t she’d have wandered for hours among the clothes, kitchen accessories and bed linen.

There was no time for that.

The trip was all about business.

“Bedding be damned! Your desires to rework the kitchen’s towel color scheme are unimportant, woman, and too hell with the guest bathroom decor,” I exclaimed as she perused bed spreads.

By this point we’d already finished the mission, she reminded me, and technically she was right. Damn her. But it’s hard to come down off the adrenaline of our whirlwind tour of the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration.

I was still on a mission, even after the mission was over.

The mission seemed simple: Get a valid American driver’s license. A certain state in Germany, looking at you Baden-Württemberg, got a wild hair up their collective asses and decided to revoke the driving privileges of anyone caught operating a motor vehicle while in possession of U.S. Army Europe driver’s license without a valid U.S. driver’s license.

That means me. I’m a member of that club. So is Dagmar. So are a fuck ton of my friends and coworkers. My Arizona driver’s license expired in 2008 and her Texas license expired in 2013. This wouldn’t normally be a big issue and we could’ve waited until the powers that be made a decision about the validity of a U.S. Army driver’s license without a valid stateside license until we went back for vacation, but … I travel a lot for work. I travel for work using official government orders, like a grown up and shit.

When my boss learned that my license was expired (thankfully his was too) he told me that there would be no more official travel until the situation was fixed. Cue the “rapid quick trip back to the states” music and our visit to the Maryland MVA.

As a member of “the no valid U.S. driver’s license club” I think I may have been the first to travel back to the U.S. just to get a license. Mind you, I wasn’t renewing a license, I had to actually get a license. I think that fact actually makes me the king of the no valid driver’s license club.

As king of the expired driver’s license club in Europe, I’d like to tell my fellow expired license subjects that they are in fact screwed. I know, I know. Normally a King reassures his subjects, but the mark of real leadership is the ability to tell people when shit’s real.

Shit is real.

There is some good news. If you’re an active-duty service member living in Germany and have an expired license, you can likely renew online. If not though, prepare to receive sausage, because you’re basically fucked.

Dagmar and I had four states from which to choose pick when it came to asking for a valid driver’s license. Three of them basically told us to fuck off, but Maryland was indeed sympathetic. Sympathetic to the point that I think the manager there is really, really sick of me. Sick of me as in, “would avoid me at parties” sick of me.

I, however, can say she’s on my Christmas card list for life.

If only I’d gotten her address.

Here’s the thing: You don’t want to board an international flight (booked in duress no less) to acquire a driver’s license without knowing exactly what kind of paperwork will be required on the other end of that flight. If Cathy from the MVA had said she needed an original signed photograph of my wiener, I’d have been asking my wife how the light looked and if the photo was in focus.

I was going to have everything they wanted, in triplicate if possible.

We had to board our plane Saturday afternoon and Saturday morning I received news, via email, that we would both have to take the written and driving tests before we would be issued licenses. We couldn’t simply exchange driver’s licenses. Not ideal, but not an insurmountable obstacle either.  Or so we thought. Cue ominous music.

I printed out two copies of the attached driver’s license study guide and tucked them into our carry-on baggage to review driving laws during the flight back home.

We arrived Sunday and were at the Maryland MVA early Monday morning. The manager met us at the door. This was likely due to the fact that I had bugged the living hell out of her during the previous few weeks.

Photos of our beautiful mugs were taken, paperwork was exchanged, weather was discussed and we both passed the written driver’s test. No bonus points for who missed less questions, the automated test cuts off once you’ve answered the correct number of questions.

Like this, nailed it.

Like this. Nailed it!

Then we both promptly failed the driving portion of test.

I failed because it seems I cannot parallel park to save my life (or to save the cost of two round-trip tickets to the U.S.), and Dagmar failed because she thought she was smarter than the lady administering the test.

In my haste to book our flight and rental car I noticed that a large luxury sedan was only a dollar more per day than the smallest economy car offered by the rental agency. Being an idiot I took the luxury sedan thinking bigger is always better, like boobs.

Bigger is not always better when it comes to parallel parking, at least in my world, and I straight up flunked it. I couldn’t moor the Titanic within a foot of the curb in the allotted three minutes.

Dagmar’s story is a bit funnier. After having successfully parallel parked the Hindenburg, her tester told her to make a left hand turn. Dagmar observed that she would be crossing a double yellow line and decided that it would be unsafe to do such. She informed her tester that she was going to go straight and then turn around just up the road. You know, to better facilitate the test, or something.

Both of our tests ended the same way. “Please put the vehicle in park, you have failed the exam. ”

I cannot read these strange symbols. They seem to mean, something.

I cannot read these strange symbols. They seem to mean … something.

We piloted the good ship lollypop back to the airport car rental* counter (yes the MVA let us drive away, they had mercy on our souls) and exchanged it for the smallest rental car they had.

Fresh behind the wheel of a Chevy Cruz we drove it and parallel parked it for the rest of the goddamn day. We parallel parked that car until we could’ve centered it on a grain of rice. We parked, parked, parked and parked some more.

Because going home sans a valid driver’s license wasn’t an option.

Test number two obviously went a little better for both of us. And by little I mean a 1,000 percent better. The young lady who administered my test the second time was calm, cool, professional and must still be wondering about the guy in his mid-40s with buckets of sweat pouring off his forehead. (I still have a cramp in both hands from the death grip I had on the steering wheel the entire time.) But we passed.

Keep the hands and 10 and 2 o’clock (clearly neither Todd, nor his driving tester, have not read this ~Fran), always check your mirrors, break smoothly when coming to a stop! Be sure you see the rear tires of the vehicle in front of you at the light! And for god’s sake son, use your turn signal! Always signal!

I’m so left thinking, politically, I considered just keeping my left-turn signal on constantly.

My father, like a lot us, taught me to drive. He did it on a 1960 Dodge pickup truck with a column shift and a clutch that required Paul Bunyan leg strength. He, did I mention this though, was also a driving instructor for many years and later a professional truck driver with all those million mile accident-free awards to prove it.

To confess to him that I had flown all the way in from Germany to take a driver’s test and failed, was almost worse than telling my boss.

Almost worse because Dad’s weekly allowance has long since dried up.

As I already gave away the ending, we both received brand new, won’t expire for eight years, Maryland driver’s licenses. I mean if we hadn’t and I’ve have returned to Germany without one, today’s blog entry would read something like this — “Oh god, Oh god, Oh god, Oh god, Oh god, SOB, <nose blow>! Oh god, Oh god, Oh god, Oh god” — which isn’t very funny, but I suspect some of you might have been highly amused regardless.

When I got back in the office this week, there were congratulations, some snickering and some kind-hearted teasing, but the best came from a lady I’ll call “Sue.”

Sue is retired military police officer and is the glue that holds our office together. Think Radar O’Reilly from “M.A.S.H.” hardened by years of police work, zero tolerance for bullshit and with an awesomely foul mouth. You love or you hate Sue.  I happen to love Sue. Her sharp tongue has cut me more then once, but I’m smart enough to know I had it coming.

Sue came into my office on my first day back and closed the door.

“Did you really fail the parallel parking part of your driver’s test the first time,” she asked.

I assured her I did.

“You dumb motherfucker, you live in Germany, you parallel park every goddamn day,” she said, howling with laughter.

She was right, I do. I parallel park at least once a day, sometimes multiple times a day.

Maybe I had it all wrong, the worst wouldn’t have been my dad, my boss or even my own sense of self worth. The worst was Sue. Jesus, the worst would’ve been Sue.

 

*Shout-out time: NextCar is a new rental car company that just opened in BWI. I can tell you I’m officially a loyal customer. Pam at the counter even high-fived us when, with drivers licenses in hand, we turned the car in on our way back to Germany.

Awesome company, seriously. If you’re in the Baltimore area they should be your go to rental car agency. NextCar is an awesome deal with affordable, new cars and an absolutely awesome staff. (Feel free to send me free schwag, NextCar!)

I’m in a European hotel and European hotel’s suck, here’s why

As a rule, European hotel rooms suck. Sure there’s some swanky hotels in Berlin, Paris, London and for all I know Plovdiv, Bulgaria, but the ones I stay at for work tend to suck.

These days most of the European hotels I stay in are in Germany, but that wasn’t always the case. I used to travel far and wide on this continent and I can assure you all the hotels generally, as a rule it can be assumed, suck here.

My experience with European hotels can be summed up as follows: Room service is non-existent and when it comes to TV your English-language channels are limited to BBC, CNN international or some British sports channel that features an obscure international ostrich feather testicle tickling championship. There’s also the famed European late night TV programming. I had no choice but to do some sport betting, the app can be downloaded from this great site if you are interesting.  

Which, since the advent of the internet is about as sexy as a one-piece bathing suit circa the 1880s.

They're actually kind of cute.

They’re actually kind of cute.

That’s not to say the rooms aren’t comfortable. Oh wait, I wrote that last sentence wrong, I meant to say they’re also not comfortable. Everything in my current room technically works, but it’s as if it were designed by idiots, madmen or sadists. Maybe it was designed by idiotic sadistic madmen?

I don’t know.

There’s a lamp at the desk where I’m writing this that is mounted to the wall and has a flexible base that you might bend over to shine directly on your keyboard while you type or on a book while you read. Useful stuff right? It would be, except the only thing holding the shade to the lamp itself is gravity. So if you bend the flexible base the lamp shade flops over, held on only by the bulb. It’s not a broken lamp technically, it was just designed by someone who doesn’t know what a flexible base is meant to do.

Look here’s a photo

Actually I'm an idiot the bedside lamps worked fine.

Actually, I’m an idiot, the bedside lamps worked fine.

OK, I hear you saying (because I have super, super good hearing), “It’s just one fucked up lamp, quit your bitching.” Well, I would quit my bitching and go to bed to read, except the two lamps on the night stands function the exact same way.

Still though, I’m alone in a hotel room and instead of critiquing the accommodations, I could spend my time leisurely reading in my spacious double bed. My room does have a spacious bed, but like many double beds in Germany, it’s actually two single beds shoved together because fuck hotel guests.

Actually, I think is might be a European thing and not a Germany-only thing. For reasons I can’t fathom, it seems that shoving two single mattresses together, in the European mindset, equals a double bed.

cheap bastards ...

cheap bastards …

Let me assure you it does not equal a double bed. If you want to snuggle with your wife, your pillow, your significant other or the person whose name you hope to remember before tomorrow morning, you can’t. Someone is going to be uncomfortable because of the gaping canyon in the middle that exists when you shove two mattress together.

Why do I see this in hotel after hotel after hotel? What’s the point? Who does this? If any European reading this can give me an education on why this is a thing I’d greatly appreciate it.

Thankfully European hotel bathrooms totally rock. They’re warm, they’re functional, they come with hot and cold running strippers and yeah they don’t really rock at all.

I’ve talked about my wife’s strange aversion to buying new towels or throwing old ones away. When we have house guests, I have them sign a liability waiver before using our bathroom towels. I think I’ve said that if I ever used one of our towels to dry off a homeless dog I would apologize to the dog afterward. We have bad towels, thought no fault of my own, but compared to European hotel towels, they’re fluffy clouds of moisture-wicking love woven by angels.

This is because I think European hotel towels are woven from the tears of abused children and cacti. They don’t so much remove the moisture from your body as they frighten it away while simultaneously sandpapering off much of your skin. They are as good at absorbing moisture as cardboard and they have a similar feel and rigidity.

What the fuck? Are soft fluffy towels a closely guarded secret only shared among staff in American hotels? Are the these German hotels washing their guestroom towels in gasoline, lye and starch?

Then there are the showers. When I was traveling for work to the states frequently I noticed a lot of hotels had installed these rainfall shower heads. I don’t know why. I blame hipsters and Martha Stewart. I’m not sure why I think Martha was a part of this decision, but it’s the kind of thing I suspect she would approve of. I’m not sure the rainfall shower heads are any more effective than a traditional shower head, but at least they weren’t less effective and obviously people like them.

European hotels long ago took the opposite approach and never looked back. All European hotel shower heads (yes I’ve seen them all, it took me a while, but hey it’s an hobby) are connected to a hose that is connected to the wall. The shower heads can all be removed so that you can spray water directly onto whatever part of your body is the filthiest. For me, that’s the brain, my brain is the most filthy.

So with the knowledge that European shower nozzles are detachable, I always stand outside and reach into the shower timidly to turn it on. Here’s why. I don’t know what the fuck the shower head is going to do. The water pressure combined with the amount of hard-water deposits and a not-so-snug seat in the wall mount often result in the nozzle either rocketing off the holder or spinning in an unpredictable direction, shooting water out of the wall mount. The damned things turn left, they turn right they raise up or the blast down. There’s a greater than 70 percent chance that they will come alive and unsuspectingly blast me in the face.

Yes, I could reach up and remove the shower head, point the nozzle away from me and then turn the water on but, fuck you, it’s six in the morning and I haven’t had coffee yet. I prefer to play European roulette with my morning showers thank you very much.

While we’re on the subject of the bathrooms, the toilet in my room right now has a siren attached to it. Now I know if you’ve been reading this blog for any amount of time you probably agree that I need a toilet siren, but that’s not what I mean. When I flush this toilet, some combination of water into the toilet and yuck out of the toilet creates this high pitched screech that resembles a siren/rape whistle. This is the only hotel I’ve ever experienced this in, but the hotel is in Europe and I feel it needs to be included in this piece.

I mentioned earlier that I used to travel to the U.S. a lot for work. For about six months I was crossing the Atlantic literally twice a month. It was a bit grueling. I was traveling with basically the same group of people and we all because fast friends. We generally stayed at the same Marriott every trip into D.C.

For reasons I don’t understand not every room in this hotel had a mini fridge. So one time during a very late night check in, we asked the receptionist if our rooms had mini fridges. She checked her computer, tapping buttons vigorously, and then seconds later explained that they did not.

Someone in our group asked if we could get rooms that did have them. She tilted her head like we had just asked a stupid question and informed us that they could deliver a mini refrigerator to each of our rooms at no cost if that was our wish.

I was shocked.

They could do this? This was an option? Had I died and gone to heaven? Yes, yes, please deliver to each of us a mini refrigerator. We have beer that must be chilled, you understand. Heady discussions about why airline travel sucked and morning hangovers are not made from warm beer.

A half an hour later a midget showed up at my room, where we all gathered, with three mini refrigerators on a dolly. I was later informed that he was not in fact a midget, but in my inebriated state and for the purpose of this story let me assure he was a midget and at that moment he was also a god.

Fluffy towels, functioning lights, a rainfall shower head, a mini fridge delivered by midgets in white coats and a toilet that doesn’t call the police? Oh friends, I was in heaven.