Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Train Trip From Hell

If something can go wrong it will I suppose.  This story originates from the winter of 2000 when I was just trying to get home for Christmas.  Looking back on it, it was almost like Planes, Trains and Automobiles without John Candy selling shower curtain accessories as earrings.  Some of you younger readers might be shocked as to why I didn't pull out a cell phone and put a stop to all of this madness.  Sit down, because this may shock you.  Not everyone had cell phones in 2000.

Dan



Everyone has had some horrific traveling experience in their life. Whether it be the crying child behind you in an airplane that just refuses to shut its mouth, or running out of gas fifty feet before the entrance to the gas station. Boy does that suck. You ride out your tank on empty from Wednesday to Friday, hoping that you have enough to get from the bank to cash your paycheck straight to the gas station, only to sputter out right at the entrance. So you have to get out, put the damned thing in neutral and push like an idiot with cars whizzing all around you. Honking and laughing at the thought of some moron running out of gas so close to the gas station. But I digress..

I was unfortunate enough in the winter of 2000 to be stuck in the dark recesses of Great Lakes, Illinois. It was a cesspool of nothingness about forty miles north of Chicago. Confined in this cursed plot of land was the Great Lakes Naval Training Center. After getting out of basic training in the nearby base, if your rating classification dictated that you go to one of the technical schools contained in the Naval Training Center, you were stuck there for another few months, up to a year, depending on what your luck ended up giving you. Mine had me stuck in Great Lakes until winter.

Shortly after the completion of my tech school I had about two weeks of leave time saved up before I got stuck in another cesspool; Norfolk, Virginia. But that is another story for another time. Anyway, after getting done with the final testing at the school I catch a van ride with about four or five other people down to Chicago. This was a test in and of itself. Stuck in a minivan with about five other jackasses all going to three different airports. Took damn near six hours to get from Great Lakes to Chicago. Almost had my bags mistakenly set on an airplane when someone grabbed the wrong ones. Gee, who would have thought it to be a bad idea to make every bag in the military the same damn color?

As the last of the people on the van the driver and I make way for my aunt's house in Chicago. Pretty good trip. And cheap too, only about thirty-five dollars when the cab ride would have been in the hundreds. As much as I wanted to get out of Great Lakes, they could kiss my red Indian ass if they thought I was going to pay that much for a cab ride. I arrive at my aunts and try to keep the little thieves that she babysat from stealing everything I owned.

The next day I wake up at about five in the morning to get everything in order to travel from Chicago to Flint, Michigan. From everything I had read online it was supposed to be about a six hour train trip. Not too bad if everything goes right. Just sit back and read a book, fall asleep and wait to get home. The train was originally scheduled to depart at about nine thirty in the morning, so hopefully I had afforded myself enough time to get up, get ready and get the hell out of dodge. After groggily waking up after spending a few hours passed out on a couch in the living room I got up and walked down to the corner to a nearby ATM machine to pull out some cash for the train ticket and something to eat. By the time I get finished with all my preparation to proceed on my journey , I come back to my aunt's place and wait for a decent time to come to call a cab.

Some where around seven we call one of the five million cab companies in the city of Chicago. They tell us that there will be about thirty minutes until the cab gets there which will be perfectly fine by me. I can still get to the train station in time. Like hell I will. Thirty minutes goes by, forty minutes goes by, an hour goes by. Nothing, no cab, nothing. My aunt goes down to the corner to get coffee and while I am sitting on the front porch the phone rings to the house and I can't get to it in time. Turns out that not too long after we called the cab company they had a shift change and they were calling to see if we still needed the cab. Now let's think about this for a second. Why in the blue hell would you call a cab and then all of a sudden decide you not need it? Are there people seriously calling cab companies and dispatching them to random locations as a joke? Dear sweet crap these people are stupid.

At this point it is about an hour before the train leaves. I have to figure out a way to get a ride from the north side of town to downtown where the main train station is. Luckily, at about eight forty-five, a cab just happens to drive down my aunt's street, I hail the barely English speaking cab driver and we are on our way. There was one thing I had forgotten about; rush hour. I was trying to get downtown in rush hour traffic. Bumper to bumper the whole way and it was every bit of slow. At one particular red light the cab driver almost gets into a fight with an off duty cop who was trying to cross the street. As much as I appreciate the effort of this humble servant trying to get me to the train station, the last thing I needed at that point was him getting into a fight with some police officer and delaying my arriving at the train station. We finally arrive at the train station in great haste at about nine twenty-seven and I run in with two forty pound bags to the ticket counter. I go to ask about the nature of the train I was to be on and I was informed it had already left the station. 

Great, the one time in recorded history an Amtrak train left early and that just had to be the one that I needed to catch. The ticket fellow informs me that the next train will be leaving at about two in the afternoon and that it was one of those deals where you take part of the trip on train and the rest on bus. No big deal there, I can handle having to ride on a greyhound bus. Provided I take enough sleeping pills and wash them down with a bottle of gin, that part of the trip will become barely tolerable.

Now I have about five hours to kill, in a train station, in Chicago. There is no way anything out of the ordinary could possibly happen. Not one bit, uh uh. I hadn't even sat down at a Chinese restaurant in the train station for ten seconds when this odd smelling transient comes up to me asking if I could give him three dollars for a copy of The Onion. The onion is a little humor newspaper that this beggar had apparently stolen from a newsstand and is trying to make some money for drugs apparently judging from the gestations of his body and the smell on his breath. But I decide to make a piss poor attempt to improve my karma and give him three dollars for his little newspaper. As I go digging into my wallet for this cash I was going to give him, the son of a bitch starts looking into my wallet to see how much money I have. He starts asking me for twenty dollars for the paper. Kiss my ass you filthy beggar, a subscription to The Onion costs twenty dollars. I'm certainly not paying that much for one copy, least of which one I probably won't even have in my possession by the end of the day. I tell him to piss off and take the three dollars and that he is damn lucky to get that.

The rest of the afternoon is filled with me trying to pass time in about a million different ways. Most of which involve me walking around trying to avoid the gauntlet of bums and transients that congregate around the train station. Now this train was set to leave at about two pm so about a half hour I go to the departure area and wait. And then I wait some more. After about two hours of numerous delays and outright lying to us on behalf of Amtrak we finally get on the train. Turns out it was so cold in Chicago that day the train froze to the tracks causing the extended delay. So we can get on the train right? Wrong. Since this train was going to b eventually going to other destinations than mine they had to fill up and prep the dining car. So that means another forty five minute delay. Sweet crap, just tell everyone to get some candy or something. I can go a few hours without having to eat the microwaved crap that I will surely be served to me in the dining car.

I get on the train and for the first hour or so everything is fine. Then the dining car opens for business. In the minute or so that I waited to get up after the announcement that the dining car was open, the line had grown to one that would turn into around an hour long wait. An hour long wait for this ungodly looking sub sandwich that when I finally got to my seat and unwrapped it; it was frozen. Not cold, but frozen. So I let the thing sit for awhile to thaw out and then barely chew through the strong as cement bread. After about a couple hours of riding on the train we finally pull into the train/bus station in Kalamazoo. Yes, that is really the name of the town. Try saying that, pretty difficult huh? Yeah. At this point the most logical thing to do once arriving at the train station would be to get on the bus and ride to Flint. Problem is, the train had arrived so damn late that the bus had already left and gone. The official at the station informs us that they are dispatching a bus to come as soon as possible and that one should arrive within the hour. Now this bus station was pretty much an empty room with a coffee machine. No television, no arcade games, not even a damned gumball machine. So the hour goes by and there's no bus, two hours goes by and there's no bus. We finally, three hours later get on the bus and head to Flint.

The bus finally pulls into Flint at about two in the morning. It was snowing like hell the whole time so the bus goes extra slow. So of course we get there extra late. I hop off the bus and it comes to my realization that I am the only one getting off here. And that the station is closed so I got to stand outside and pray that my ride, who was originally intended to get there at about two or three in the afternoon to still be there twelve hours later. I walk around the outside of the station looking for a payphone and the thing is disconnected. Not out of service, the handset was ripped off from the body of the phone. I just finally look up at the sky and yell, "WHAT THE HELL ELSE IS GONNA HAPPEN!" Then I see a pair of headlights come on from the other side of the parking lot. Oh hell, I'm here all by myself, its late, and I am about to get mugged. The vehicle pulls up and its my mom who is just furious that I arrived so late. The next day we call up Amtrak and bitch them out for everything that went wrong on the trip. They decide to give me two free ride vouchers. Yeah sure, like I want to ever go on a train again.

So I guess the only thing that you can learn from this is that if you have a train trip you need to take, make sure you prepare properly. For example, if you have to get to somewhere that is five hours away; clear twenty hours from your schedule. Get to the station about a day and a half early. Get a can of mace for the bums and the beggars. Bring a backpack that could fit about three days worth of supplies. Bring liquor, bring lots of liquor. Maybe even some tranquilizers. Or you could just walk, you'll end up getting there sooner.

One Red Light At The Front

The following is something originally published elsewhere.  When I wrote it, I was looking for a fond holiday memory during a time when one normally doesn't have one.  What resulted as a small practical joke turned into a story I have been telling for years now.

Dan


On Christmas Eve 2001, I was way on the other side of the world. I was somewhere off the coast of Pakistan and drew mid-watch. For those of you that don't know, that means that I was on duty from 1130pm until 330am. I was training two people that night to do watch standing, my friend Joey and a kid named Walt. Walt was from the town of Wolf Creek, Montana. I am just going to go ahead and automatically assume that this is a small town, because anything named after an animal or a type of water body is automatically considered for small town designation. Think about it, when you think of the names Chicago, New York, Los Angeles; you think of a thriving metropolis. What do you think of when you think of Wolf Creek, Montana? Six people in the general store sitting around a damn pickle barrel. But I digress...

We had started watch that night with a two hour stint of lookout duty on the back end of the ship. Since it was late at night, and it was Christmas Eve, we decided to have a little bit of fun with the people on the bridge. So about five minutes before midnight, I take the headset from my trainee and go into action.

"Bridge, this is aft lookout. I need to report an air contact", I piped in up to the bridge.

The bridge's phone talker gets on mic and replies to me, "Ok aft lookout, what do ya have?"

As I begin the slow roll and boil to mess with these people's heads Joey and Walt are laughing hysterically. They already know I am up to something but have no clue what it is gonna be, other than that is good. "Well I have a surface contact about ten miles out bearing 180, looks to be pretty high up there. It appears to be a red sleigh being driven by a jolly fat man. It also appears that he has a giant bag in the back of the sleigh, possibly filled with toys. Maybe a slingshot. Possibly a sweater from a well meaning grandparent that just doesn't get the fact that you are twenty-two and don't like clothing with pictures of ducks anymore. Boy, that thing sure is stuffed. Anyway, the air contact in question appears to be propelled by eight reindeer."

At this point you can hear everyone else on the bridge just laughing hysterically, because they know that the bridge talker is going to have to report all of this mess back to the officer of the deck. She sighs and says to me, "Ok smart ass, anything else?"

"Why yes", I replied, "One red light at the front."

Sometimes you can't pass up on an opportunity like that. I mean I had to say something. Didn't want them shooting down Santa Claus.

Goodbye Yahoo Contributor Network, Hello Dan Experiment!

Way back before I had any thoughts of making any money at all by pounding on a keyboard and hoping that something that looked like it was created by a real  live human being came out, I would just type away about random events.  Like how my day was and things like that.

One day, I stumbled upon a website called Associated Content.  I was struck to see that you could write something, they give a look at it and eventually decide whether or not to pay you based upon how many views your writing got.  For the most part that's how it worked in the beginning.

Around the time I wrote the Veteran's Day piece in 2010, I had probably four or five people that read what I had written.  Then because I name dropped my loose involvement with Michael Moore several years prior, they put my piece on the front page of their news section for most of the day that year.  Even if he is a satchell-assed blowhard I'll always be indebted to the Michael Moore folks and whoever at AC that decided to forward the article to them.

It opened up a lot of doors for me to express myself.  About my beliefs at the time I wrote them, and about what humor(as poor as it may be) that I was trying to let out into the world.  Too much bad shit going on, try and make somebody smile.

Eventually Associated Content got bought by Yahoo.  Yahoo over time whittled away at the importance of the freelance contributor.  While some of their higher ups were making millions, some fellow contributors were scraping by on pennies compared to what they should have been getting.  But that's what happens when you make a deal with the devil I suppose.

So, in less than a week as of this writing Yahoo will be pulling the plug on their contributor network.  That means that every great article that everyone has written for them will be gone unless they've got them backed up and post them somewhere else.  The upside of this is that we get the rights back to everything.  That being said, I am going to periodically go through and rerun some of my earlier work.  It may be stuff you've seen before.  Hell, I might even put a little blurb at the beginning describing what the inspiration for the article was.  So piss off Yahoo!  It's all ours again!

Red Card Headbutt Wrestling

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Monday, June 30, 2014

The Child Fund Guilt Trip Street Team

The following might be what is called an unpopular opinion but I really couldn’t care after the way that this whole situation seemed to have unfolded.  I’m sitting on my couch in the middle of the day when out of nowhere, we get a knock on the door.  We get plenty of unsolicited knocks in our area, from the kids selling candy for their soccer teams and the people that work for other power companies trying to convince you that their company is somehow cheaper.

This one was a wee bit strange.  I open my side window and see that spreading almost like roaches to the other houses are folks with green shirts on, complete with giant packets of literature and green lanyards.  This young man, who the guy at the liquor store probably wouldn’t believe he was over the legal age to purchase wine and other spirits looks up and smiles.

It’s a representative from Child Fund.  You all remember Child Fund, don’t you?  Of course you do.  They are the ones that occupy about sixty percent of the commercial time after the evening news getting you to sponsor a child.  For I believe fifteen dollars or so a month you could sponsor little Isaac, who is a star of these commercials along with a kindly looking grandfather type who guilt trips you that you haven’t called yet.  As if the film crew couldn’t sell one of their cameras and sponsor Isaac’s whole damn village for a year.

I’ve always been curious about how the Child Fund sponsoring system works.  Do you get to pick a specific child that you sponsor from a book of pictures like the old police mug shot books?  Are the letters you get from the child you sponsor real or are they like when someone posts what appears to be a fake “Insert Dirty Things Kids Inadvertently Wrote On A Paper Plate Here” post on BuzzFeed.  I always have had this level of doubt with organizations like this that the letters from the sponsored children are written in some office building in Wyoming or something.  Like the same way people think their fortune cookies all come from China, only to actually look at the packaging and see they are made in New Jersey.

Anyway, the young man starts in with his pitch and I begin to wonder why the hell he’s at my door to begin with.  I mean, you can’t turn a television on for an hour after ten at night on cable without seeing the old man with the young kid telling you that he’ll die by the end of the commercial if you don’t get your credit card out now.  I, being polite listen to him until he has a chance to take a natural breath.  Which takes a while, because they must teach these people to say this shit while holding their breath underwater or something because damn do they have some lung power.  I’m talking about Ed Harris in The Right Stuff level of lung power.

After about six and a half minutes of making his speech (time may be extended for hilarity), I told him that it’s something that our family would like to do but we only have a specific budget for charitable contributions.  You’d think he’d be overjoyed or at the very least mildly happy that he’s being met by someone that donates to something instead of just getting a door shut in his face.  Nope, he proceeds to ask me what charities I donate to; which are really nobodies goddamn business when it comes down to it.  Seriously, do you ask complete strangers what charities they donate to?

Hoping that telling him one of the charities we donate to will get him off my damn property, I tell him that we really don’t have any more money to give.  I say goodbye to him and as I am shutting my window he sneaks in the following, “so you don’t want to help starving children today?”

Just like the old fella in the commercial, he’s busting out the guilt trip on me.  I then proceeded to tell him that it was excessively impolite to tell someone that when they respectfully give their reasons why they cannot.  It wasn’t as if I danced around him in a circle burning his donation forms.


For two minutes, this guy argued with me over the fact that I wasn’t donating and basically telling me that I was indirectly responsible for children starving.  It was incredibly insulting.  Hell, even after I shut the window and closed my blinds the guy stood there practically shouting at me as if he was commanding me to reopen the window.  Those of you that plan on donating to a charity, do so with all your heart.  But don’t do it through somebody that comes to your door.  The only people you should give anything to that randomly show up at your door are A/C repairmen and Trick Or Treaters.