38 Walking Miles, Broken French, and Beaucoup du Vin Rouge: Our Week in Paris!

The universe has a way of messing with us. Some people think it comes from a Devine source while others think it’s just purely coincidence. Either way it happens to us all eventually and we either deal with it or just give up. This was my thinking about a month before my wife and I took our first trip to Paris wondering if some force was either trying to stop us or just throw enough obstacles in our way so that we properly earn our ticket east. Whatever was going on I can now say…with all respect to everyone’s beliefs, dogmas and philosophies…EAT ME UNIVERSE, WE FUCKING MADE IT!

McDearmon-MuttA few weeks ago, I had started a post about a trip to Nashville, Tennessee which was abruptly ended with the passing of my grandfather. Stewart “Mutt” McDearmon died on April 19, 2017. Although it was an extremely hard time and difficult seeing someone larger than life as Mutt laying in a casket, we can all be thankful that he had a great life, a loving family and will leave a legacy that can never be matched.

One thing grandpa would never want us to do would be to grief to the point of missing an experience that he was never to have on his own. On top of losing a relative, we also battled bronchitis, a sick pet and my wife almost being denied entry into Canada (more on the Canada thing later). After all that, I’m happy to report that we did in fact make it to Paris and back in one piece.

My travel posts usually start at Indianapolis (IND) but for international trips it’s just as easy (and less expensive) for us to fly out of Chicago (ORD). We booked an Air Canada flight several months ago after seeing a deal via the Points Guy. BLAME_CANADAWhen trying to check in the day before the system kept asking me for our Canadian permanent residency card numbers which of course we do not have. Believing it was a glitch in the system I opted to wait until we arrived at O’Hare and deal with it there. Of course, no glitch. Somehow Air Canada decided my wife was a Canadian citizen and had her on the “no board” list until she could provide proof. The agent even called the consulate which determined this was an error and then we had to fix it with the airline. Luckily it all worked out and she was cleared but talk about an odd way to start your vacation!

The flight over was uneventful except for the unexpected complimentary wine which we eagerly took part. A few glasses down and we were out for the overnight portion of the trip. img_2389The Charles de Gaulle (CDG) airport (at least the terminal we traversed) was nothing to write home about but I didn’t really care. I was just anxious about getting through customs seeing we had flown in the day after a heated Presidential election. I thought we would be there for hours but the agent gave me one look, stamped my passport and sent me on my way. Actually, I think she had to use the bathroom and she wasn’t going to let a nervous American cause her to shit her pants! After that we hopped in an Uber and headed to the city of lights (or love or whatever).

I have found that when people ask you about a trip like Paris, they always start with “did you go to ?” I’ll simplify this by listing the destinations we actually visited:

  • Eiffel Tower
  • Arc de Triomphe
  • Luxembourg Palace and Gardens
  • Paris Aquarium
  • Bois du Boulogne
  • Cathedral de Notre Dame
  • Isle St. Louis
  • The Louvre Museum (although it was closed for Victory in Europe Day)
  • Does the original Chanel Store count?Snapseed

I’m sure there are many people who visit Paris for less time than we did and have a much longer list but destination sightseeing is just not our thing. One thing you may notice is that there are no museums on the list. We don’t have anything against art, and especially the quality you can find in a place like Paris, but one little detail prevented us from making them a priority. THE WEATHER WAS FLIPPING GORGEOUS! How could you go indoors knowing that it was between 65-70 degrees (fahrenheit) and sunny outside.

SnapseedWe had the most fun just exploring new neighborhoods, sitting in random cafes enjoying a nice snack or beverage and just soaking in the culture of a great city. We specifically enjoyed wondering around what seemed to be an “old money” area in the 16th arrondissement (close to Bois to Boulogne) and the college town atmosphere in the 6th near Luxembourg. These contrasting neighborhoods along with the many more we traversed brought our experience full circle and allowed us to get a small glimpse into the diverse culture of the city.

For those who may be planning their own trips or if you’re just interested in my silly interpretations of the world around us, here are a few things I learned in Paris:

Contrary to popular belief (in the U.S. at least), Parisians are not rude. SnapseedThis is just one of those cultural differences that not enough people investigate before drawing a conclusion. Take for example going to a restaurant. In America, you are constantly waited on. You’re greeted promptly, given time to look over the menu, asked if you’re doing OK multiple times and then eagerly ushered out the door. In Paris it’s not this way at all. We were always greeted but never hassled to make an order until we prompted the server we were ready. If we needed anything, we had to ask and not just wait for them to come around again. And when we were done, we could sit there for hours if we didn’t ask for the check. From what I gathered, by bothering us during our meal/snack/drinks/whatever, that would be considered rude to the French. Once you realize this you’ll see that it’s just a different perspective than you may be used to.

If you speak bad enough French, anyone will address you in English. One of the tips I heard over and over was that most Parisians speak English but are appreciative if you at least try and talk in their native tongue. Therefore, in preparation for the trip, I dusted off my college level French by signing up for Rosetta Stone and Duolingo. In my head, I was fully prepared for speaking slowly and generally being understood by most people I encountered. That wasn’t the case. My words may have been on par but my accent wasn’t even close. My attempts seemed the frustrate more than communicate so eventually, just about every server/hostess/hotel concierge would just stop me and say “what do you want?” I did feel a sense of pride when I was able to have an even elementary French conversation and hope that this effort was not in vain. Either way, communicating was not an issue and am at the same time both happy with my performance and disgusted by the U.S. educational system.

American men need to come here and learn how to dress. Do I really need to write this? AfflicitionI mean, let’s call a spade a spade! I recognize that I am not the most fashionable person but I at least try to dress presentable and in clothing that is the correct fit. Unfortunately, that is not the mindset that prevails in the American male psyche. Pants that are too long, suits that are too big, camo, plastic shoes, Affliction t-shirts…where does it end? Parisian men really hit the mark on this one without having to work too hard. Even those in casual wear were put together, simply but in a way that displayed they had put some thought into the outfit before walking out of the door. The professionally dressed men were in well-fitted suits or sport coats supporting a “third” piece like a scarf or pocket-square. All-in-all, any man could take a lesson from the fashion in Paris and up their wardrobe without having to go on a spending spree. Of course, since I was there…I went on a spending spree!

Smoking dominates the landscape. With all the good things to say about Paris, the one obvious negative is the sheer amount of smokers in the city. Mad-Men-Don-barEverybody smoked; it was unavoidable. Every café was filled with smokers wall-to-wall and to the point where you eventually got used to it. Luckily the government was smart enough to ban smoking inside (or at least I think that’s the deal) so you could escape the second-hand clouds of death by walking through a set of doors. But again, the weather was great and we wanted to be outside so it was something we just tolerated for the time being. I can only imagine their lung cancer rates must be through the roof and hopefully they have a healthcare system that can sustain this habit. But again, it’s a cultural difference and not my place to judge. Of course, by the end of the week we felt left out and were tempted to start sparking up. Luckily the feeling passed and we didn’t pick up any bad habits.

Overall, our timg_2527rip was great! On the way back we were seated near some Griswolds who’s kids (ages around 18 months to 3 years) never slept or stopped moving in general. I actually started feeling bad for them. Here we are, on a flight or almost 8 hours and these two are constantly having to shift the kids around, get up and walk them around the plane and, as best as they could, try to get them to not scream bloody murder every five seconds. They did a pretty good job but it had to be exhausting (in their honor I decided to take a nap!). We flew through Montreal in route to Chicago which was a nice airport and our welcome back to the (North) American way of life. A meal larger than a family a four could handle, constant service at the airport restaurant and English…oh sweet English!

Thank you Paris for a wonderful time and we hope to visit again soon. There is much more for us to explore so we both decided that this would not be our last trip to the area. Au Revoir my new French friends…until we meet again!

Travel Time: IND-ATL

Air travel is an adventure. It’s an adventure when you first head to the airport, while you are on the trip, and when you reach the destination. Of course, like for most, these adventures include other people. Unless you have your own plane or are rich enough to fly in solitude, people come with the territory. Instead of my usual 6am departure this one started later in the morning. My path was Indianapolis to Atlanta via Charlotte which I know goes against convention since every airport has a direct flight to Atlanta. In this case Delta decided the flight home did not need to fit into my work schedule so American it was (a decision I would later regret).

I brought up the adventure part because of my departure. Even the mostly seeming, uneventful flight has its moments and mine started the minute we left IND. I am one of those flyers who usually ignores the person next to me. Through experience, I have grown a shield which prevents me from paying much attention to my fellow passengers. However, that day it must have been down. Next to me was a young girl, probably 11 or 12 (or 8 for all I know…I’m terrible at determining someone’s age). ShieldsAnyway, this isn’t the first time I’ve been in this position but she boarded the plane with NOTHING. Absolutely, nothing to keep herself entertained. At first I didn’t notice but after a half hour or so, my instincts kicked in and I noticed she was struggling. She wasn’t losing it…she was just bored. My empathy alarm started going off immediately. Here I am, iPad in hand, watching videos, reading, basically having a smorgasbord of entertainment at my finger tips and she has nothing. Damn my conscience.

Now my empathy tank usually runs on about a quarter full so I wasn’t ready to give up my iPad (would she really want to watch reruns of Curb Your Enthusiasm anyway?). At the same time, I am a grown man and she is a young girl.

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Unblock Me

There is a very thin line on being helpful versus being creepy so I had to first decide if I was going to take that chance. After watching her open the airline magazine for the fifth time I decided to take a chance and see if I could help. On my phone I have a very entertaining game called “Unblock Me” where you move blocks around until the designated piece can escape the room. I asked her first if she like puzzles which she said yes. I showed her the game and handed it over which she seemed to really enjoy. I felt good about helping out but sorry for her at the same time. I can only imagine she was flying from one parent to another and this was probably routine. But who puts a child on a flight with nothing to do? It’s so easy to lose faith in humanity these days…

With the exception of some pretty heavy turbulence in and out of Charlotte, the rest of the trip went fine. I do forget that some people are still afraid of flying. One little jerk during the flight can send some on a full scale panic attack. On the second leg of the trip, the woman next to me kept doing the trinity cross thing on her chest after every bump. I don’t want to be the one to tell her but if we start going down, there’s no amount of praying that’s going to stop a 150,000 pound metal tube full of jet fuel from turning us all into a mountain of ash (all due respect to the faithful). Even for the most seasoned flyers, bad turbulence can make things uncomfortable and cause you to start thinking about what realturbulencely matters. Like did I clear my browser history before leaving or did I let the chance to tell someone they were an asshole slip by me forever. You never know what’s going to happen so for now on I’ll be more prepared! Anyway, for people like my new devout friend, I usually keep a few anxiety pills handy and will happily turn into the in-cabin drug dealer if anyone near me really starts flipping out. What can you say, I’m a people person at heart!

Atlanta really is a great city and someday when I feel like I’m up for the challenge, I’ll do a full review of Hartsfield. Until then, I’ll just ride the tram, get my car, and jump head first into the famous traffic of the ATL. IMG_2324I had quite a bit of stuff to write about during this trip but it all pretty much got trumped when I-85 caught on fire. No joke…the damn interstate caught on fire (Google it!). Luckily it did not affect much of what I was doing but the entire city went into a panic. The traffic there is bad enough without a large chunk of a major artery missing. Luckily nobody was hurt but the pain associated with increased time at the wheel is going to be felt by the natives for some time to come.

During my off hours I was able to see some of the new and old attractions of Atlanta. I was advised to check out the Ponce City Market, the new multiuse retail/dining/living monstrosity built on an old Sears & Roebuck building in the city’s historic fourth ward. IMG_2323It’s a pretty impressive establishment with lots of interesting places to eat and shop. Based upon the surrounding neighborhood, I imagine this is an attempt to gentrify another area closer to the heart of the city which is not isolated to Atlanta. Projects like this one are now a common sight in urban areas across the U.S. as the interest in moving closer to city centers has become the newest trend in American migration. The upscale clientele along with the fact you have to pay to park even in the surface lot leads me to believe the property values that surround the market are probably skyrocketing as I write this post. It was a nice place and I’m sure I’ll hit it up again on another trek south.

For me, no visit would be complete without a trip to the Zoo. Zoo Atlanta located just southeast of downtown is an impressive campus that sits within the grounds of Grant Park. IMG_2328They had many great exhibits and for an afternoon visit, the animals were very active which made the trip that much more exciting. Of course, it was 72 degrees out so why wouldn’t they be out and about. I have an affinity for the great Apes so I spent a good amount of time just watching them roam around their enclosures. No trip to Zoo Atlanta would be complete without stopping in to see the Pandas. This was a great day to do so because the 7 month old babies were playing together on the firehose hammock. There was a good crowd but not so bad where you couldn’t enjoy the view.

I really enjoy visiting Zoos when I get the chance because they are just one way we humans are still trying to maintain the natural world. Like many Zoos, Zoo Atlanta is a member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums which is dedicated to animal conservation. These facilities are not just fun places to see animals; they are places that will make sure these animals will exist even as we continue to destroy their habitats around the world. There are a lot of dedicated people who work for these organizations so let’s just say, a quick trip to the Zoo puts my faith back into humanity!

On the trip home I learned two lessons: One, the Atlanta airport punishes you for not flying Delta and two, you can pretty much be in Iowa and still be allowed to call yourself an Chicago airport hotel as long as American Airlines is paying the bill. My flight out was in the T terminal at ATL which can’t stand for anything other than “terrible.” It has limited amenities, small gates and in the afternoon, bakes in the hot southern sun.

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Yep…looks like a murder scene.

A delay in one flight meant mine was as well. It happens; nothing in air transportation is perfect. However, I did get the chance to miss my connection and take advantage of the wonderful accommodations provided by the airline. I imagine in 1985, this Holiday Inn (which calls itself an airport hotel even though it it 30 minutes west) was once a great place of business. Now it’s a $60 per night, John filled shithole where apparently soap is optional (maybe it’s a perk for the working girls!). The 70 year-old shuttle driver who proved that interstate lane lines are just decorations was entertaining enough to get me through the night. A few hours later, I was back at O’hare and on my way home. Like I said, it’s always an adventure!

Travel Time: IND-CLT

This week’s trip takes me from Indianapolis (IND) to Charlotte (CLT) for a three day stomp around the South.  Not often do I get to my home airport with enough time to just grab a

Snapseed
Indy Car for the 101st Running of the Indianapolis 500

latte, sit back relax and just enjoy the environment. This has been my first later-in-the day departure in a while so I calculated in plenty of time for rush hour traffic. Luckily the roads were clear so I made it in no time. I also got to take an uber which is a treat in the rain. One covered pickup followed by a covered drop off and I’m on my way (yes, I’m a spoiled first-world consumer!).

Of course being here allows for a good amount of people watching and, subsequently, people listening which is another airport hobby of mine. Here’s a thing: at what point is it appropriate to intervene in a conversation? Not to break up an argument or god forbid, get into a political discussion (I would rather stand behind a jet at take-off) but just interject into the discussion. Of course I only ask this when you can add something meaningful in a respectful way that may actually do some good. A father and son were sitting next to me discussing if the young man should apply to his school’s honors program. The father was aloof about it but was not discouragiblog-interruptingng him either. As someone who has worked in higher education for a long time, I could easily persuade them to give it a try and even discuss some of the benefits they probably didn’t know about. That’s a rhetorical question of course but something that I’m sure we all face at one time or another. At this point I decided to just stay quiet and let it go.

The solitude of business travel life makes you rely on the antics of others for inspiration and sometimes entertainment. Like my seat mate on the way to Charlotte. She wasn’t an full time talker (thankfully) but I guess she worked up the courage to speak once we landed. I learned she had taken this trip to meet her father for the first time. She looked to be in her twenties so that had to be an emotional experience. It’s amazing what people will share like how he was abusive to her mother (before she was born) and how she had been raised by several sets of relatives over her short life. I guess sometimes the anonymity that comes with a short term acquaintance allows you to dump some of the pent up emotional baggage you had been holding in. No tears were shed but I could tell it was an experience she didn’t want to relive. I listened, sympathized, and wished her well.

The next was my shuttle driver from the airport to the hotel. He was a nice older gentleman who I guess enjoyed giving the occupants complete details on the ride including how many minutes we had remaining before arrival,

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Summit of King’s Pinnacle

the list of amenities at this particular property and the birthday and history of Billy Graham (as we were driving on the Billy Graham freeway). I felt bad for not asking him more questions but like the bus we were riding in, I was out of gas.

The trip went well and took me all over western North Carolina.  I went from Gastonia to Winston-Salem, even took a beautiful hike at Crowders Mountain State Park.  Unfortunately, I was only downtown Charlotte for a few minutes which is sad since it is a very clean and vibrant city.  The revitalization around the perimeter of uptown tells me that, like most medium sized cities in the U.S., there is a growth in demand for urban living around Charlotte as well.  The city is helping itself immensely with the continued additions of new train lines (slowly but surely, of course).

As of now, I’m back at the airport waiting to board and wishing that one of the rocking chairs that line the atrium would open up soon.  I’ll cover those more when I finally do a full review of CLT.  Off to the skies I go!

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Travel Time: IND-ORD-SFO

This trip took me to San Francisco via Indianapolis and Chicago. The day started with a dense, ghostly like fog to the point where I could barely see the signs into airport and the parking lot. Unfortunately I had to drive due to the lack of early morning Ubers. IND is an easy shot from my place so it’s not a big imposition. img_2145After parking, a creepy figure standing at the shuttle bus waiting area which ended up being just a nice lady with big hair. I would have loved to get a photo but the bus was bearing down on me so I had to pass.

For the first time in hundreds of flights, I was almost late. Of course my definition of being on time means having a comfortable amount of waiting before take off. Pre check was packed which is what led to timing issue but I made it fine.

The first leg was IND to ORD which is only about an hour from take off to touch down. Because it’s early I’m usually asleep before ever taking off. I find the thrust very soothing. As you can see, Chicago looked peaceful from 10,000 feet yet I’m not naive enough to things that’s true. Being originally from Illinois it saddens me to see what’s happening to that city. I still enjoy Chicago and ORD but has its share of issues. What city doesn’t?

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Chicago from 10,000 feet.

Thanks to our friends the Canadian plane manufacturers, we had to gate check all the roller boards since I guess up north you don’t carry on anything bigger than a child’s backpack. This is always entertaining when we deplane with the bottle necking that inevitably occurs on the jet way. Every time there is the one ass hat who

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Rebel or douche…

thinks he’s too good to stand in line for the gate checked bag. Probably the guys who drives a large loud vehicle and has a tiny you-know-what. Another guy stepped up and ran him off…good for you, bro!

The longest leg of the trip went great, especially since it was in a new aircraft and there was an empty seat between me and the guy in the window seat.  Sometimes being in the back of the plane has its perks too. There were plenty of entertainment options to the 4+ hours went by without noticing.

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Empty seat!

There was quite a bit of turbulence both right after take-off and as we approached SFO but nothing that set off my alarms. A few people around me started gasping but it wasn’t that bad.

SFO is a nice airport and I plan on giving it a review in a few months. At least the B terminal is clean and has lots of dining and retail options. It even has a Yoga studio somewhere on grounds which is not surprising. The airtrain is extremely efficient and quickly gets you from point to point. Once I reached the rental car garage I got a free upgrade and was on my way.  Off to rainy San Fran I go!