Tour’s Books Blog

August 28, 2012

The Reason Why I Always Travel with Books

Filed under: Asleep at the wheel,General,Musing on life — toursbooks @ 5:51 pm

Get a bunch of business travelers together with nothing to do and invariably they will start swapping ‘war stories’ about things that happen on their trips.  Things that are entertaining only when viewed in retrospect.  Lost luggage, diverted flights, aborted take-offs, blown engines, hotel staff strikes, food and drinks spilled all over you, having Jeeps with machine guns challenge your tour bus – you name it.  I’ve had most of those happen to me (including the machine gun thing) – as have most travelers – but I do get a lot of attention when I announce, “Well, I spent the night under the craps table at the El San Juan hotel.”  Yup.  That’s an attention getter.

I’ve been traveling for years – decades.  Actually, more decades than I care to count.  Pleasure and business have taken me many places around the world, though I still have a long ‘bucket list’ of places I haven’t seen.  I made a point of hitting the ones that mattered most to me early and I’m glad I did.  Arthritis, which started young for me, has taken its toll, so climbing the Acropolis at Lindos on two different trips 20 years apart won’t be happening again.

Business trips rarely allow for much sight seeing.  Maybe a quick day trip here or there if you’re lucky.  I drove all over Wales to see Harlech and Caernfon Castes with a colleague, then taking him up thru back roads to see Mt Snowden.  Little did we know he would be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and die less than a year later.  Made me glad I did all that driving I cursed at the time.

I also got to see the temples at Nara, the oldest wooden buildings in the world, the glass works at Murano, had hot chocolate at Florian’s on St Mark’s Square, took a canal cruise in Amsterdam, and dragged two guys to the diamond district in Antwerp where I got asked by one, “Can you tell these two stones apart?”  I glanced at them, told them which was which and why – and I was dead right.  They stared at me like I was insane.  I kindly explained knowing diamonds came with estrogen.  (The sales woman had hysterics.)  Then there was Pittsburgh, Evansville, ID, and Pottstown, PA  – far more often than not.  But I have to admit, the one place the company had the devil’s own time getting me to travel to was Puerto Rico.  Yup.  They hauled my butt half way around the world and back again, but getting me from NYC to San Juan turned into a nightmare for them.

I’d spent 20 years artfully avoiding any business trip to PR, sending my guys, pleading other commitments, but my boss put his foot down and said, “You HAVE to go, you’re the only one we trust to get this done!”  I had become something of a legend for evading a trip that others fought to take – actually many were begging to go in my place and I waved them a happy good-bye.  So now that I was finally trapped,  I was traveling ‘under protest’.   As we go into our landing pattern at San Juan airport, the always calm pilot comes over the intercom and says, “Ladies and gentlemen (there were maybe 30-40 of us on a flight that carried 180+), if you look out the left side of the plane, you’ll see Hurricane Hortense.”  Let me tell you, a Cat 2 hurricane looks damn impressive from the air.

A little background on how I found myself in this mess.  I was sleep deprived from being in AZ for a week, arriving home late the night before, renting a car to drive home, getting 6 hours sleep, the rushing to toss out dirty clothes for clean ones before racing BACK to airport for the flight to San Juan. Hadn’t seen the Weather Channel or any other TV for several days, but once at the airport, I hear there was a hurricane off St Thomas. I think, “Damn, the flight will be cancelled and I’ll have to call the car service to take me home. I got up early for nothing!”  (I admit, the part that really pissed me off was getting up early.)  Nope, they board us on time on a nearly empty flight – except for business people like me. Now I shamelessly eavesdropped and these folks were saying how it was nothing, they were in and out of PR a dozen time a year and it’s all a bunch of hysteria. So on the flight I get.  (Was this my second or third mistake?)

Ours was about the last flight they allowed to land. (obviously, everyone was nuts, me included). I check into the El San Juan, where they looked at me like I was crazy (How the hell did I know about Hortense? I’d spent the last 7 days 3,000 miles away in the damn desert of AZ!), had dinner with the vendors (who were at a different hotel) had drinks at the lovely lobby bar and chatted with stranded folks trying to get to various Caribbean islands, and went to bed dead tired.

Then came a midnight call.  It had me so confused.   “Get your pillows, a blanket and comes to the casino NOW!”  I kept flipping the light switch, but the damn room light wouldn’t tun on.  I’m cursing a burnt out bulb, I grab the flashlight I always have when I travel and staggered around trying to figure what the hell I was doing.  I got semi-dressed by flashlight, packed my little clock-radio, several  books, and a super large beach towel into a backpack, grabbed 2 pillows, a blanket and staggered into the hallway that was filling with complaining guests.  In my somewhat disoriented condition, I’m wondering why the lighting looks so odd and then I realize that the emergency lights are on.  But the elevators are running so down we go, expertly herded by staff to the still fully lit casino.  Each person was given a dreadful old lounge cushion and told to find a spot on the floor to sleep.  Apparently, when the hurricane hit the island it blew out some of the windows in the rooms, so for safety reasons, all guests has to go to the casino. Even in PR, casinos have no windows, so it was the safest place, plus the governor had closed the bars and casinos at 9PM, so they weren’t losing any business.

You were wondering about the beach blanket, right?  Well, having spent a lot of time in tropical areas, I smartly wrapped the old lounge pad COMPLETELY in the heavy terrycloth.  Even smarter, I parked myself under a craps table where I could prop myself up against the leg and read and maybe cat nap.  I also used my little clock radio to try and get a local weather report – which I did.  Too bad I don’t speak Spanish.

BUT – I had my books!  So knowing I wasn’t actually going to sleep, despite my state of exhaustion, I did read.  Except for one problem.  In any crowd, there will ALWAYS be one problem.  Keep in mind, the bars were CLOSED and had been for hours, but we all know some people will still find a way to get drunk, and despite 4+ hours in a room with sandwiches, water, cold drinks, and juice, this one guy managed to stay that way. He was loud, abusive to the hotel security staff, almost started 2 fights, and generally behaved like a world class a-hole. While I found the ‘floor show’ mildly diverting, I did have the urge to pick up a chair and beat him to death with it. I was not alone, but the staff managed to keep relative peace – despite the outraged mother who confronted the idiot for screaming obscenities near her small children.  Since he was like 6’4″ and maybe early 60’s and she was about 5’6″ and mid-30’s, my money was on her because man had she had it.

Then there were the whiners, there always are, but I figured the last thing staff needed was a hard time. They couldn’t be with family, were stuck taking care of idiot tourists and hapless business travelers and had to stay pleasant at 3AM when they were as tired and fed up as we were, and probably a lot more worried about what was happening at home. So I got to spend a memorable night under a craps table in the El San Juan Hotel during a hurricane, mostly watching two guys play cards and listening to the loud drunk yelling about ‘being illegally detained’, while reading.

Finally, around 6AM we were allowed back to our rooms.  At 7 AM, the phone rings.  It’s my boss.  The man who forced me to go to this stupid island was checking to see if I was OK.  Peachy, I was just peachy.  And so damn thrilled at be being woken up AGAIN!  If he’d been in walking distance, he would have died at my hands in about 90 seconds.  He, however, was safely back on the mainland because HIS FLIGHT WAS CANCELLED!

Hortense wasn’t a really awful storm at Cat 2, but parts of Puerto Rice that are normally desert like, got over 20 inches of rain and catastrophic flooding.  Even San Juan was badly flooded and we were pretty much confined to the hotel by security, like a lock down, due to looting and things like that.  The airport stayed closed for 2 days.  We ate pretty much the same buffet food breakfast, lunch, and dinner, though at dinner we usually had something like baked ziti added.  I figured the staff was doing the best they could.  The rooms had no lights, so housekeeping left us votive candles. and even made the beds and left fresh towels.  We did have flushing toilets and hot water.  Taking a shower by the light of 2 flickering votive candles sounds a lot more romantic when you read about it than it is in real life.  With no power, I sat out on one of the verandas and ……. yes, read a book.  Actually, I read several books and the ones I finished got snapped up by fellow guests grateful for the diversion.  It’s not like we had TV.

The bars reopened late the next day and by then, many of us sort of bonded a bit and exchanged ‘why the hell I’m stuck here’ stories that ranged from ex-pats trying to reach their Caribbean homes to a guy who had been called to testify at a trial on Anguilla.  It was a pleasant evening at beautiful bar and I tipped all the staff generously.  They deserved it.  The whiners left little or nothing, apparently unable or unwilling to understand 5* service just wasn’t possible when hurricanes hit.  I did, however, manage a laugh at them.  One of the women who did a lot of whining was on my floor in an oceanfront suite.  She came up to me in the hallway and asked if I was bitten by bugs.  I politely smiled and said no.  And that, dear friends, is why Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy tells you to always travel with a towel – or in my case, an oversized, heavy beach towel.  Fleas.  Somehow, the dear whiner picked up the fleas from the old lounge pads and managed to bring them back to the room in her jammies.  Ah, poetic justice.

Today, in the day of Kindles, air books, e-readers, and Smartphones, why carry books?  Obviously, when this happened none of those existed, but without a way to recharge and functioning cell towers and wi-fi signals, you can’t get far with electronics when you’re days without electric.  A good book – well all I needed was enough light to see.  Hey, reading is VERY useful and has lots hints about avoiding pests like fleas.  heheheheheheheheh And you thought Hitchhiker’s Guide was just humor!  LOL  While ‘the whiner’ was showing off her bites, I just smiled pleasantly and nodded now and then in sympathy.  Don’t know what happened to the drunk, but never saw him in the bar – or anywhere else.  The books I finished moved on to other Caribbean islands  or back home to the mainland with my fellow travelers.  I FINALLY got a flight out, to a different airport.  As I told the guy at the ticket counter, “I don’t care if you get me to Kansas, I can always get home from there, even if I have to drive.”  And thank heavens for car service.

Here at home, we got hit last fall by a Cat 1 storm that caused epic flooding and then a month later that weird 19″ snow in Oct that took down tons of trees, and both times we had folks in town without power for 7-10 days.  They had no cell phones, internet, water pumps for their wells – so no water (and that means no flushing toilets), nothing.  The town opened various centers where folks could shower, recharge electronics and such.  That’s the great thing about books, you never have to plug them in, and those new LED reading lights work after dark and take just 1 battery, so it’s easy to have spares.  Even now, when not having a computer with internet access makes me edgy, when my ISP goes down, I just grab a book.  Yeah, I have a Kindle, and yes, my laptop has many ebooks on it, but even the most energy saving laptop or smartphone will die within hours.   Better to save them for communication and entertain yourself with a book.  You never know when you’ll find yourself spending the night under the craps table during a hurricane!


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