It’s been over a year since I posted the last missive from Manhattan so here’s another of those epic emails from the US (this one spans 8 pages!). I have broken it into more erhm, digestible chunks of demented drama. Next time:Vegas, baby!
Sent: Tuesday, May 31, 2005 8:23 AM Subject: the saga continues...part II ~ March
Me again… on a roll! Trying to wade through the historical (hysterical???) drama of my life which I’ve been unable to recount as I siphoned every available cerebral impulse into creating training materials. Can’t begin to tell you how insane it’s been! Suffice to say, I’ve literally looked up from my computer and over 3 months have flown by in a flock of fledgling gulls. I feel like Rip van Winkle – not to mention brain dead. Though I think some of you were of the opinion awhile back…
So now we’re in March – a rather exciting little month so without further ado, let’s get into the thick of things:
Violating the System
Aaron, another colleague (who I have decided is actually a long lost sibling – we argue and taunt each other like two little kids) went to spend a week end in Washington DC with Sarah. This was a super brave move by him – considering he would be in the company of 3 girls! The ‘third’ being an ultra high maintenance, vaguely hysterical Jozi creature on rotation in Atlanta. I was dreading spending so much time with so many “girly girls” myself and when I was informed on arrival that all three of us had to share a bed, I nearly had a nervous breakdown. I ended up “cliff hanging” each night and actually slept on the floor at stages!!
The fun started early – I collected Aaron from the West Side (late – as I got stuck behind a garbage truck) and we drove to work. Just before the office, we pass a “bridge” over the road and Aaron turns, shocked and asks incredulously
“Don’t you pay the toll?”
I look at him with innocent disbelief and ask
Stupefied, he replies
“The one you just drove through…”
Let me explain: at the George Washington Bridge and every other toll I’ve ever driven through (including SA, Europe and the UK), you have to pass through a “boom” (where you pay your toll) before you proceed on your merry way. Not so on the Garden State Parkway it appears.
Not that there aren’t signs indicating the advent of yet another opportunity to part with one’s coins but I (who spent most of my formative navigational forays to the office in a state of pure hysteria and yahoo direction following) had not paid much attention to non essential details like the EZpass.
So being me, I argue adamantly with Aaron and tell him categorically that that can’t possibly be a toll… only to arrive at the office and meet Murphy’s Law: a tall stack of New Jersey toll violations – forwarded by kind favour of Avis. Let me paint a torrid picture for you:
- the toll is 35c (US cents not SA cents)
- you pass through it twicea day
- there are 5 days in a week
So for each week, I accumulate 10 violations. Fortunately, I got an EZpass badge on my car in February – but for 3 weeks before that, I was riding maverick. And here’s the clincher: for each violation the toll authorities charge $25 and Avis then slaps on an extra $25 admin fee. Let’s do the math: each week, it cost 35c x 10 = $3.50 in the tolls but a whopping ($25 + $25) x 10 = $500 in penalties! Ouch!
Warrior that I am, I wrote the highway powers a long letter explaining I’m a clueless, ignorant foreigner who has no idea of how the EZpass works. So far the situation seems stable but I have a sense I might be fielding a lot of correspondence in the future…
That was the first drama of the day and of course, I had was teased blind. But my American Ignorance was only about to get worse.
Fly the Friendly Skies
We arrive at JFK with little incident, encountering almost no traffic along the way which I thought an unusual piece of good luck. I should have been more cautious in my assessment of fortune’s swing blade. Anyway, we find the valet parking, leave the car and head out to the terminal (a 10 min bus ride from the parking lot). As we arrive, Aaron says absently
“Do you have your ID with you?”
Again, I’m utterly incensed
“ID for what?”
“Scarlet. You need photo ID to fly”
“But this is a domestic flight! (Only I could forget the country was recently rocked by a major security disaster involving a domestic air-o-plane). You don’t need ID to fly domestically in SA!”.
I have discovered this is a standard defence to absolutely anything I do not like about how things work here – akin to a child stomping their foot, wailing in the build up to a full blown temper tantrum at not having things their way. Yes, yes, I know: hardly mature.
The result? We had to hustle back in a bus, find the car (luckily my international and SA driver’s licenses were stashed in the cubby hole) and retrace our steps (at high speed) to the terminal. By now we’re nearly late and Aaron stresses about these things even more than I do so you can just imagine the vibe between us. Passing through security I was convinced I wouldn’t be allowed through on such shaky ID (though by this time the thought of a weekend with an unimpressed Aaron and the girly girls, just driving back to Manhattan was starting to look rather appealing). But wait! There’s more: the flight was duly delayed by 1.30 hrs. Ah yes, the joys of flying these here friendly skies.
As you can imagine, the weekend was trying: Aaron gets irritable if he’s in other people’s company for too long, Sarah wants everyone to do everything in unison (argh…which drives me absolutely insane) and Melody’s gushing factoids on fashion or some another equally stimulating topic. We tried to see all the Smithsonian museums in the course of a morning: our 4 diametrically divergent tastes in culture made it episodic. I loved the space museum and could have spent the whole day there: ALONE!!!! But alas, I shall simply have to venture back to The Capital one day.
The afternoon saw us doing memorials – oh and just for added irritation (trust me, this weekend was a DIY course in anger management and diversity tolerance) the girls (and at this point I rescind all associations with the female tribe) turned it into a photo documentary. Every sickly done-to-death cutesy tourist opportunity had to seized and then recorded in every conceivable pose/position/lighting/angle. Watching my parents trying out the Karma Sutra would been decidedly less nauseating. I’m not joking when I say that between the girls over 500 photos were taken – in the space 36hrs. I’m sure this is a world record.
If you thought my suffering was over: you’d be wrong. Night arrives and off we go to George Town where we meet up with some of Aaron’s friends who are absolute party animals and it’s decided (by the girls) that we just HAVE to find some club somewhere – the oestrogen levels were so high I was dizzy.
The evening’s ‘highlight’ was Melody ordering a kiss from the barman (no, I’m NOT joking, I wish I were). She’d whined on endlessly about how cute he was so when Aaron’s friend went to order drinks, he asked the barman to kiss her (if only to shut her up. for a moment). And true as my word, with absolutely no fanfair they do just that. Over the bar. M then prances about for the rest of the evening like a cat that licked a whole pitcher of cream. Now, we know I’m no angel but if you are going to do that sort of thing, do it when you’re an adolescent and can blame tasteless behaviour on the fact hormones hijacked your brain. This defence does not hold true once you pass 25. If tacky is your thang, please be so kind as to indulge without subjecting the rest of humanity to a full frontal of your PDL (Public Display of Lust) – this only looks good in the movies . Because there’s stage make up, mood lighting and a tasteful soundtrack to soften the blow (excuse the pun). It’s wise to remember we do not all live in Hollywood….
Aaron, by the end of the evening had had enough and left first thing the next morning to drive back to NY with his friends. Leaving yours truly to suffer through further renditions of
“He was just sooooooo cute. I can’t believe he kissed me….”
and another trip to take in more memorials. And yes, you guessed it, more postcard perfect photo’s. I do not think my patience has ever been more frayed. To make matters worse, Sarah who is a worse control freak than me (which should give you an idea of how bad she is), decides I’m overreacting about how much time is needed to get to the airport (we were deep in the city and still had a metro trip back to her flat, way out in the ‘burbs). Fast forward to us racing for the airport and narrowly escaping the final fiasco of me missing my flight. Needless to say I was irate but – and I think perhaps this may be a sign of some budding maturity – I was able to control the need to say “I told you so” and sit silently in the back of the car… though, to be fair, I should mention it was a rather rocky silence!!
…to be continued