GPS guidance has a Waze to go

I love Waze™ as a driving app. 99.5% of the time it gets me where I want to go without difficulty, and provides lots of useful information along the way.

But it has quirks.

Almost invariably, when I enter a destination from a position in a parking lot somewhere, Waze will calculate the route as though I want to go the direction I’m facing.

Example 1:

Here I’m facing north, parked at home – but to get to my destination, I need to drive 3 miles south to Route 1. Waze sends me six miles out of my way, just to make a U-turn.

Example 2:

If I were to head south to Route 1, the distance would be 6.8 miles instead of 13, and 10 minutes instead of 19. In short, Waze is doubling my distance and drive time simply because my nose is pointing north when I input the destination.

This happens far too often for comfort. If I’m in an unfamiliar location parked in a strip mall, for example, it seems like 4 times out of 5, Waze will have me turn the wrong way coming out of the parking lot, which will result in a ten-mile detour just to go back the other way or a longer, more convoluted route to my destination.

In the words of Columbo, “Oh, just one more thing:” I drive from Maine to Boston or New York often, and there’s a huge stretch of road along the way where Waze tells me “Searching for Network,” even though Google Maps has no problem in the same regions. I don’t get why this is an issue.

These are without question first-world problems, but I use this app so heavily – not having the inborn sense of direction that the Goodwoman of the House possesses – that it causes me a lot of stress. And I have not yet figured out how to get this kind of general feedback to anyone at Waze who cares. But on the plus side, for my own needs there’s no better directional guidance app out there.

The Old Wolf has ranted.

Being a global linguist for fun (and just a little profit)

Languages are Hard - Making Voice Assistants Speak Many Languages

The numbers have changed a bit since 𝑁𝑎𝑡𝑖𝑣𝑒 𝑇𝑜𝑛𝑔𝑢𝑒𝑠 was published by Charles Berlitz in 1982, but the principle remains sound.

Among the several thousand world languages, only 101 count over 1 million speakers. Of these, the fourteen most important in number of speakers are, in approximate order:


All of these have at least 50 million speakers, including dialects. Chinese is definitely the number-one language, with almost 1 billion speakers. English, second by several lengths—with approximately 300 million native speakers is nevertheless much more widely spoken over the world’s surface than Chinese. Perhaps 200 million additional speakers around the globe use English as a second language.

Since most of the world’s population either speaks or is familiar with one of the fourteen languages listed above, or with one of three other widely spoken languages—Dutch, Greek, Swahili-or with a language in either the Scandinavian, the Turkic, or the Slavic group, it is possible for an individual with the time and inclination to be able to communicate with the great majority of the inhabitants of this planet by learning to speak these 20 languages.

Berlitz, Charles, Native Tongues, 1982, Grosset and Dunlap

It’s an interesting concept for someone who might want to travel the world and speak to just about anyone.

I regret that the days ahead are fewer than those behind; I would need another lifetime to master all 20 of these, but I have attained conversational facility in English, French, Spanish, German, and Italian and I have made progress in Japanese, Mandarin, and Arabic, along with a bunch of others not on this list like Irish, Norwegian, Croatian, Farsi, and Hebrew.

Some people have great musical skills. Others can do artwork that will knock your eyes out. Or write captivating stories, or all sorts of talents. This one is mine; I’m neither boasting nor do I apologize, and I’m not even a hyperglot like so many others in history. Learning languages was a career, (that’s where the little bit of profit comes in) and also became a hobby. For me, it’s sheer enjoyment.

Q: What do you call a person who speaks three languages?
A: Trilingual
Q: What do you call a person who speaks two languages?
A: Bilingual
Q: What do you call a person who speaks one language?
A: American

I can’t count the number of times while traveling for work or enjoyment that I encountered people who were delighted that an American would take the trouble to learn a bit of their language. It has generated more goodwill than I could describe.¹ Even a few phrases will usually get a smile.

There is, on that note, one other way to get the natives of another country to like you: Enjoy their food. That’s a subject for another essay, but I can share that my stock in the books of the good people of Kinshasa rose precipitously when the learned that I thoroughly enjoyed their fufu, plantains fried in red palm oil, and chicken moambe.

If you’re going to travel, make the effort. Even a rudimentary effort will pay large dividends. For ease of acquisition, [and I’m not a paid shill] I recommend the Pimsleur courses, many of which are available through local libraries. Listen at home, or in your car, or in the great outdoors and by the end of 10 lessons (or 30, for more popular languages) you’ll have a feel for the language and be able to produce and understand some common useful phrases. Another useful site is Omniglot, and there are some great apps out there – Duolinguo is very popular.

Just do it.

Il vecchio lupo ha parlato.

¹ Note: In Paris it doesn’t matter how well you speak French, they’ll be rude to you anyway.

♫ You can’t get there, the road is under construction ♬

Mad Magazine™ was wonderful back in the ’50s and ’60s. I seem to recall that as I grew older, either my sense of humor changed – I started appreciating Harvard Lampoon’s work in the late ’60s – or the quality of the writing diminished.

At any rate, some of the early stuff was priceless, and still relevant to today’s challenges. One example that keeps surfacing in my mind every time I hit a detour is this gem, written by Tom Koch and illustrated by Bob Clarke.

Peeved at Obstructions
(Sung to the tune of “Eve of Destruction” Barry McGuire)

You save up all year long to take a nice vacation.
You make a lot of plans to drive across the nation.
You dream of all you’ll see with great anticipation.
You’ve only got a week to reach your destination,
But that seems like enough, you feel no consternation.
Then they tell you over and over and over again, my friend,
That you can’t get through; the road is under construction.

You’ve never been to Maine or Utah’s scenic section.
You call the auto club to help make your selection.
You pay to get your car a thorough trip inspection.
So you can drive afar and feel you’ve got protection.
Then, when you’re almost there, you seek a cop’s direction.
And he tells you over and over and over again, my friend,
That you must turn back; the road is under construction.

Vacation here at home, our president keeps sayin’.
Don’t spend your dough abroad, he fervently is praying.
So you head for New York do do your summer playing;
Or maybe to the west a travel plan you’re laying,
To see those snowy peaks and geysers wildly sprayin’.
But the signs warn over and over and over again, my friend,
That you can’t get there; the road is under construction.

The challenge is real. In preparation for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, UDOT undertook the I-15 corridor reconstruction project.

“The project involved the reconstruction of 16.2 miles of interstate mainline and the addition of new general purpose and high-occupancy-vehicle (HOV) lanes through the Salt Lake City metropolitan area. The project also included the construction or reconstruction of more than 130 bridges, the reconstruction of seven urban interchanges, and the reconstruction of three major junctions with other interstate routes, including I-80 and I-215.”

While the project was sorely needed and the end result was beneficial, for four years, the commute from outlying areas to Salt Lake City was a major pain in the patoot, with commuters searching out and jealously guarding favorable and secret bypass routes.

But wait, there’s more!

In 2009, UDOT undertook the I-15 Core reconstruction project, rebuilding 24 miles of I-15 from Point of the Mountain to Payson in just 35 months. The design-build strategy meant that the entire stretch was torn up at once, instead of doing a few miles at a time. The inconvenience was so significant that I was moved to memorialize the experience in video:

In retrospect, I really shoudn’t complain at all; nowadays our nation’s crumbling infrastructure could use a bit of help, and I think subsequent generations would appreciate our putting up with some inconvenience if it means that their bridges won’t collapse underneath them. But when you’re behind the wheel and trying to get to work (or to a vacation destination), the aggravation can certainly raise one’s blood pressure.

Bonus Section

Since I happened to be on the subject of MAD Magazine, another extract from the same article is precisely the reason our family threw out all our TVs over 20 years ago (the kids were absolutely devastated, but somehow they survived):

The TV Victim’s Lament
(Sung to the Tune of “Blowin’ in the Wind” by Bob Dylan)

How many times must a guy spray with Ban
Before he doesn’t offend?
And how many times must he gargle each day
Before he can talk to a friend?
How many tubes of shampoo must he buy
Before his dandruff will end?
The sponsors, my friend, will sell you all they can.
The sponsors will sell you all they can.

How many times must a man use Gillette
Before shaving won’t make him bleed?
And how many cartons of Kents must he smoke
Before the girls all pay him heed?
How many products must one person buy
Before he has all that he’ll need?
The sponsors, my friend, will sell you all they can.
The sponsors will sell you all they can.

How many times must a gal clean her sink
Before Ajax scours that stain,
And how many times must she rub in Ben-Gay
Before she can rub out the pain?
How many ads on TV must we watch
Before we are driven insane?
The sponsors, my friend, will sell you all they can.
The sponsors will sell you all they can.

Full disclosure: My mother single-handedly raised me on the income from commercial advertising, so I feel a bit sheepish about this, but the onslaught of advertising, much of which has now moved from the airwaves to the internet, still rubs me the wrong way.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Next phase of the United Saga

First, Oscar Munoz “apologized” for re-accomodating” a paying passenger – by beating the snot out of him and dragging him off the plane.

Then, this fine specimen of corporate leadership doubles down by blaming the passenger.

Finally, United offers a real apology and promises changes.

With regards to United’s “apology” for the event,

“The sentiment certainly rings a bit hollow when it follows two previous failures and 36 hours of intense public pressure…The back-against-the-wall, through-gritted-teeth apology isn’t generally a winning strategy.” (Jeremy Robinson-Leon)

Have a look at these articles from the New York Times about the matter:

The Internet, of course, has come up with its own response:











Keep up the pressure on United until things improve, not only with this airline but throughout the industry.

The security officers involved in this debacle are not squeaky-clean either – three of them have been suspended pending reviews.

Lastly, the social media flap and internal policy reviews are not the only consequences – the affected passenger has retained a high-powered attorney and begun steps to file a lawsuit. As much as I execrate frivolous legal action, I hope whatever happens is a serious financial incentive for United to be careful how it treats paying customers in the future.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Oscar Munoz, United’s CEO, doubles down.

My previous entry dealt with an event in Chicago where a paid passenger was roughed-up and dragged off a flight by Chicago Aviation Security “officers” – notice those scare quotes, they are there for a reason – for refusing to give up his paid seat.

  • In an email to employees, United CEO Oscar Munoz addressed an incident in which an overbooked passenger had to be forcibly removed from a United plane.
  • Passenger described as “disruptive and belligerent.”
  • Munoz: “I emphatically stand behind all of you.”

United’s policies are crack-headed to begin with.

  1. Overbooking is a legal but disrespectful and passenger-unfriendly practice
  2. Throwing passengers off a flight to accommodate deadheading employees (regardless of whether or not they are needed for another flight) is morally reprobate.

Here’s a screen cap from the internal memo Munoz sent to United’s staff:


And here’s pretty much the reality – the video of the event is damning:


The customer defied Chicago Transportation Security because he had a right to be on the plane, in a seat which he had paid for. As a physician with patients to see, it’s not surprising that he was upset. When people are upset they don’t always act in the most rational manner, behave like sheep, put their heads down and blindly comply with corporate douchebaggery.

“Mr.” Munoz, dragging a paying customer off an airplane is not “re-acccomodating” him, you insufferable asshat.

If Oscar Munoz thinks that “established procedures” for dealing with unhappy customers should include calling for armed men to brutalize, assault, and humiliate a passenger, that’s a good reason for the flying public to shun United like the Ebola virus.

The Old Wolf has spoken.


United breaks guitars, and beats up paying customers.

We live in a tumultuous world, with a lot going on around us. There’s a lot that we can’t do much about. But I’ve always felt that corporate douchebaggery and abuse of power need to be called out whenever it happens.

According to a video posted at Facebook, and reported on at the Courier Journal, the following events just took place.


  1. United Airlines flight 3411 from Chicago to Louisville was overbooked. (That practice in itself is worthy of a lot of discussion, but it’s standard operating procedure in the airlines and hotel world.)
  2. Passengers were told at the gate that the flight was overbooked and United, offering $400 and a hotel stay, was looking for one volunteer to take another flight to Louisville at 3 p.m. Monday.
  3. Passengers were allowed to board the flight. (Notice: you’ve paid for your ticket, and you have your butt in a seat.)
  4. Passengers were told that four people needed to give up their seats to stand-by United employees that needed to be in Louisville on Monday for a flight. (United feels that deadheading employees are more important than paid passengers.)
  5. Passengers were told that the flight would not take off until the United crew had seats.
  6. The offer was increased to $800, but no one volunteered.
  7. A manager came aboard the plane and said a computer would select four people to be taken off the flight. (“The Reaping.”)
  8. One couple volunteered as tribute and left the plane.
  9. The man in the video was confronted. He became “very upset” and said that he was a doctor who needed to see patients at a hospital in the morning.
  10. The manager told him that security would be called if he did not leave willingly, and the man said he was calling his lawyer.
  11. One security official came and spoke with him, and then another security officer came when he still refused. Then, she said, a third security official came on the plane and threw the passenger against the armrest before dragging him out of the plane.

So here’s an elderly Asian doctor who needs to see his patients in the morning, who has a confirmed, paid ticket on a United Airlines flight, and because UA overbooked and wants their employees to have free seats, three armed thugs come on board and knock the old man out before dragging him, bloodied, off the plane, because he wouldn’t surrender his rights.

Great work, United. This beats breaking guitars six ways from breakfast.

This is what should have happened:

  1. United doesn’t overbook their flights (Not likely, it’s common travel practice.)
  2. United continues to bump the incentive – $1,000, $1,200, and free hotel, etc. etc. – until enough people take the offer. It would have happened quite soon, problem solved.

Here’s what I’m hoping happens:

  1. The physician in question does indeed get hold of a high-powered legal firm and sues the company for enough money to buy the entire European Union, plus Canada.
  2. United’s stock ends up in the Mariana Trench because nobody ever flies with them again.
  3. The three armed thugs (security personnel, cops, whatever) are fired and end up spending the rest of their days sweeping up after horses in Texas rodeos.

Here’s what’s likely to happen:

  1. Some sort of settlement, and the affair quietly fades away.
  2. United continues to abuse passengers because, after all, most of us are very comfortable and there will be a Starbucks to go to at our destination. (Meanwhile, tens of thousands of people continue to protest in Serbia and Ecuador and around the world because they are tired of government corruption.)
  3. “Proper procedure was followed.”

Disclaimer: I wasn’t there. I didn’t see the event. There are always more facts to any story than are being reported. But regardless, this looks really bad at first blush. If United’s corporate leadership were any sort of humans, they’d be filling their britches and entering DEFCON-5 damage control mode, but I sincerely doubt they’ll lose a minutes sleep over the event.

Don’t fly United. This is really sad in a lot of ways, because for the longest time United was the best of the best in airlines in the USA, and I have a long history of flying with them since the 50s.

The Old Wolf has spoken.


Ten Commandments for Travelers

I gathered this little bit of shared wisdom long ago before the age of the Internet or even email. I don’t know where it came from – Reader’s Digest, a mechanic’s wall, who knows. But I’ve always saved it and cherished it because as one who has been blessed to travel to many places in the world, I have found the thoughts contained to be accurate and valuable.

I.       Thou shalt not expect to find things as thou hast left them at home…for thou hast left home to find things different.

In an interview with Frances Mayes, author of “Under the Tuscan Sun,” Michael Shapiro quotes a story he heard from his grandfather about a traveler coming into a town.

He asks the first person that he sees, what are the people like in this town? The man replies, what were they like in the last town? The traveler says, they were miserable, horrible, terrible. So the man says, I think you’ll find the people here are just like that. A second traveler asks the man, sir tell me what are the people like in this town? So the man replies, how did you find the people in the last town? Oh, they were wonderful, generous, kind. And the man says, I think you’ll find the people here are just the same.

In describing his perception of Mayes’ attitude while traveling, he wrote,

I think that’s your perspective, too: you come to a place with an open heart and a generous spirit. You go into a restaurant and say, “What’s the specialty of the house?” Not, “I demand this.” I wonder if you have any advice for travelers as to how they can receive the best by bringing their best.

Mayes replied,

“I think trying to leave America as far behind as possible and realizing that the world is still really various. To come here wanting what you get in America is really a sad way to travel.”

It’s sort of like the old saw about relationships:


I think it was a good idea for the author to put this “commandment” first – because in my experience, it’s the grand key, the summum bonum of travel. If you approach travel with vulnerability, being open to surprises, and take joy in whatever comes – even if it turns out that your “adventure” is a catastrophe – you will most likely have something of value to take away from the experience which will last a lifetime.

Rabbi Hillel said this:


By interpretation, “That which is distasteful unto yourself – do not unto others. This is the whole Torah, the rest is commentary. Go and study.”

In the same way, the rest of these “commandments” simply expand upon and refine the central thesis of the first.

II.      Thou shalt not let thy fellow travelers get on thy nerves, for thou art paying out good money to have a good time.

If you travel in a group or with a tour, this is great advice. I’ve always steered clear of such things, simply because then you don’t have to worry about other people’s idiosyncrasies or enforced schedules.

There’s a great movie from 1969 called “If it’s Tuesday, This Must be Belgium.” Starring Suzanne Pleshette, it depicts “the humorous adventures of a group of American tourists taking an eighteen-day guided bus tour of nine European countries.” At the moment, the full movie is on YouTube, but who knows how long it will last:

III.     Thou shalt not take anything too seriously, for a carefree mind is the beginning of a holiday

Now, we’re not talking bodily mayhem here. Personal injury, being a victim of crime, things like that can happen anywhere, even in your own comfortable home. These are not things I would wish upon anyone, and if they happen, they have to be dealt with. But beyond that, very little that takes place on a trip is the end of the world. Lost baggage, lost passports, sickness, missed connections… it’s all part of the deal. As Jenkin Lloyd Jones once said,

“Life is like an old-time rail journey — delays, sidetracks, smoke, dust, cinders, and jolts, interspersed only occasionally by beautiful vistas and thrilling bursts of speed. The trick is to thank the Lord for letting you have the ride.”

That said, it’s not a bad idea to head for a foreign adventure with preparation aforethought – never take anything along with you that you can’t afford to lose, because even in countries other than Japan, shiatsu happens.

IV.     Remember thy passport that thou knowest where it is at all times…for a traveler without a passport is a voyager without a country.

It’s a good idea to carry your passport and most of your cash in an under-clothing belt or pouch, preferably RFID-blocking. Only have what you need for the day in your purse or wallet, because if a pickpocket strikes, you’ve only lost a little money and your holiday isn’t ruined. Keep that wallet in a front pocket of your pants, not a back pocket or jacket pocket – those are the easiest target for thieves. And keep that purse zipped closed, and with your hand on the straps over your shoulders.


In this category, it’s wise to be mindful of the fact that there are people out there who see visitors as a walking ATM machine. Just keep a few things in mind and you’ll be better prepared than the average tourist:

  • Watch out for the “can you help me” scam. A friendly soul comes up to you with a map and asks for help finding “Piazza Navona” or some such. You put down your bags, get involved in looking at the map to be helpful, and when you turn around, that laptop or briefcase or suitcase is gone.
  • A “good samaritan” comes up to you and points out some ketchup or mustard on your coat (which they just squirted there), and busies themselves removing it with a hanky… while they or an accomplice rifle your pockets or make off with your bags.
  • The Phony Police Ploy: Two thieves in uniform — posing as “Tourist Police” — stop you on the street, flash their bogus badges, and ask to check your wallet for counterfeit bills or “drug money.” You won’t even notice some bills are missing until after they leave. Never give your wallet to anyone. This happened to me in Romania, but as far as I know, I was fortunate not to lose anything.
  • If you are going to be traveling on trains overnight, especially through high-risk areas like southern Italy, a great trick is to get an economical bicycle lock and coil it through your suitcase handle and the luggage rack rungs. While on the train from Catanzaro to Rome, I had some young punk come into my compartment and try to make off with my bag during a stop in Naples. I was asleep, but woke up in time to get the thing out of his hands. This would have avoided the problem altogether. Baggage thieves don’t usually carry the kind of tools needed to defeat even low-cost locks – they want to be in and out before you wake up or come back to your seat.

A good list of things to watch out for is here.

V.     Blessed is he who can say “Thank You” in any language…and it shall be worth more to him than much advice.

I can’t stress this one enough.

An American tourist on one of those 10-countries in 10-days tours developed a survival tactic that stood her in relatively good stead for most of her trip. She would walk into a store and say in her loudest voice, “Does anyone here speak English?” One day she must have gotten her itinerary confused, because a clerk sidled up to her and whispered discreetly, “Madam, this is London.”

Another joke goes,

What do you call someone who speaks three languages? – Trilingual. What do you call someone who speaks two languages? – Bilingual. What do you call a person who only speaks one language? – American.

It has been my experience that people in foreign lands, long unimpressed by the loud, demanding attitude of the typical “Ugly American,” are delighted when someone takes the time to learn even the rudiments of their language. I recall traveling on business in Rome in 1984; having lived in Naples for about 18 months, I had become relatively fluent in Italian. When I reached the office of the company I was visiting, my contact said, “Ah! Finalmente un’Americano che parla Italiano!” (Oh, finally an American that can speak Italian!) Even learning how to say “Please” and “Thank you” really does go a long, long way in generating good will. A remarkable resource for learning some critical phrases (including “My hovercraft is full of eels”) is Omniglot.

On the other hand, even with some language skills, it’s possible to make an ass of yourself (the joke is funnier if you have some French and some Yiddish.)

Mrs. Rothschild is in a fancy Paris shop; she inquires as to the price of a tablecloth.
“Combien pour ce tischtoch?” (“How much for this tablecloth?”)
“Cinquante francs, madame.”  (“Fifty francs, Madam.”)
“Cinquante francs? Mais c’est une shmatte!”  (“Fifty francs? But it’s a rag!”)
With indignation, the clerk replies, “Une shmatte, madame? Quelle chutzpah!” (“A rag, madam? Quelle chutzpah!”)

VI.   Blessed is the man who can make change in any currency…for lo, he shall not be cheated.

With the advent of the Euro, the issue of changing money in Europe is significantly diminished, but there are still many, many countries that use their own currency and it’s good to have a handle on ways to save money.

Europe Trip - Jun 1971 - Toulouse Market

Market in Toulouse, France

In 1969 and 1970, I was blessed to be able to live in Europe and did a lot of traveling by rail. I recall stopping in to a photo shop in France for some additional film (you youngsters may need to Google the history of photography if you’re not familiar with that term) and as I paid, the little French lady behind the counter smiled and said, “Vous connaissez bien des sous!” (You know your money well!) I have a suspicion that I was shamelessly overcharged for the film, but hey, I know how to count.

CNBC posted a good list of money-saving tips while traveling. To this I would add, Never change money at an airport or at a hotel. You’ll be charged exorbitant service fees and/or be given the lousiest rate possible. If you need funds to get into town, change only the bare minimum, and find a local bank for the bulk of your currency exchanges. Change only as much as you think you’ll spend in cash, because you’ll lose a percentage on the exchange when you hit your next country.

VII.     Thou shalt not worry.  He that worrieth has few pleasures, and few things are ever fatal.

This is related to No. III. Take it easy. Relax. Things will work out. Enjoy each day, each moment, and look for the little joys. Wander the side streets away from the tourist crowd and just take time looking at the architecture or the little touches of life.

Mestre - Italian Courtyard Cafe

Tiny outdoor café in Mestre, Italy (Mainland Venice)

VIII.    Thou shalt not judge the people of a country by the one person with whom thou hast trouble.

You’re going to meet morons. Some, or a few, may try to take advantage of you. Some will by angry at tourists. These are in the minority. Don’t let your vacation or experience be ruined by bumping in to one of these – there are plenty at home as well. If you’ve ever worked retail, or as a server, or a call-center agent, you’ve met all of them. Look for the good, the kind, and the wonderful – you’ll find them.

IX.     In Rome, thou shalt do as the Romans. When in difficulty, use common sense and friendliness.

Culture and customs vary widely around the world. What’s common to the laborer in Kinshasa or the farmer in Viet Nam may seem strange, other-worldly, or downright disgusting to you (I’m thinking casu marzu here, among other things.) But it is critical to remember that our customs and culture may be just as off-putting to them in exchange. It’s all about what you know, what’s familiar to you, and what you grew up with.

Part of the joy of travel is experiencing the lifestyle of others first-hand. Back in the old days – I mean really old – the only way for many people to “travel” was to haul out the stereopticon


and sit around looking at stereo views of strange and exotic lands.


There was no way you could sample a wonderful Phở or a divine bowl of callos from your living room. And enjoying local cuisine is one of the greatest joys of traveling, in my book (and on my waistline).

Short of learning some of the local language, there is no better way to endear yourself to the locals than to express a love of their cooking. I remember sitting around a table with a contingent of translators in Kinshasa, lustily dipping up antelope moamba with manioc fufu, and watching their smiles as I relished what to them must have been as common as a Sabretts™ hot dog to a New Yorker.


Haggis. If you haven’t had it, you haven’t lived.

Take the time before you travel to learn about some of the basic customs and courtesies of countries you will be visiting, to avoid giving unwanted offense. A great resource (although paid) is CultureGrams, a database of most countries of the world, with reports (Madagascar sample) outlining history, government, culture, customs, and other information that would be most useful for travelers.

For free, Google is your friend. Search for “German customs for travelers” or “American customs to avoid,” for example and scan what you find. You’ll get some good ideas of things to do and not do in any given country you plan on visiting. Some articles are more populist than others, but you can still gather some good information. Forewarned is forearmed.

X.      Remember that thou art a guest in every land, and he that treateth his host with respect shall be treated in return as an honored guest.

Going back to Commandment I, the biggest takeaway is basically Wheaton’s Law (bowdlerized): “Don’t be a moron.” If humanity would adopt this one guideline for life, this earth could be close to a paradise.

Despite the fact that almost anything you get in your inbox with the word “actual” is most likely 100% false or fictitious or contrived, this list of “Actual Complaints Received by Thomas Cook Vacations from Dissatisfied Customers” should be taken with a grain of salt or two. That said, you know things like this have happened – and I’d bet any travel agent worth their salt has heard one or all of these in various forms, so consider these representative fac-similes:

1. “I think it should be explained in the brochure that the local convenience store does not sell proper biscuits like custard creams or ginger nuts.”

2. “It’s lazy of the local shopkeepers in Puerto Vallarta to close in the afternoons. I often needed to buy things during ‘siesta’ time — this should be banned.”

3. “On my holiday to Goa in India , I was disgusted to find that almost every restaurant served curry. I don’t like spicy food.”

4. “We booked an excursion to a water park but no-one told us we had to bring our own swimsuits and towels. We assumed it would be included in the price”

5. “The beach was too sandy. We had to clean everything when we returned to our room.”

6. “We found the sand was not like the sand in the brochure. Your brochure shows the sand as white but it was more yellow.”

7. “They should not allow topless sunbathing on the beach. It was very distracting for my husband who just wanted to relax.”

8. “No-one told us there would be fish in the water. The children were scared.”

9. “Although the brochure said that there was a fully equipped kitchen, there was no egg-slicer in the drawers.”

10. “We went on holiday to Spain and had a problem with the taxi drivers as they were all Spanish.”

11. “The roads were uneven and bumpy, so we could not read the local guide book during the bus ride to the resort. Because of this, we were unaware of many things that would have made our holiday more fun.”

12. “It took us nine hours to fly home from Jamaica to England . It took the Americans only three hours to get home. This seems unfair.”

13. “I compared the size of our one-bedroom suite to our friends’ three-bedroom and ours was significantly smaller.”

14. “The brochure stated: ‘No hairdressers at the resort’. We’re trainee hairdressers and we think they knew and made us wait longer for service.”

15. “There were too many Spanish people there. The receptionist spoke Spanish, the food was Spanish. No one told us that there would be so many foreigners.”

16. “We had to line up outside to catch the boat and there was no air-conditioning.”

17. “It is your duty as a tour operator to advise us of noisy or unruly guests before we travel.”

18. “I was bitten by a mosquito. The brochure did not mention mosquitoes.”

19. “My fiance and I requested twin-beds when we booked, but instead we were placed in a room with a king bed. We now hold you responsible and want to be re-reimbursed for the fact that I became pregnant. This would not have happened if you had put us in the room that we booked.”

Don’t be these people. Be kind, be open, be prepared… and your travel experience will probably be one you will remember with pleasure for the rest of your life.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

The Shame at America’s Borders

Yesterday on February 27th, the New Yorker published a piece about the ordeal of Mem Fox, a well-known Australian author of children’s books, who was coming to the US to be a keynote speaker at a conference in Wisconsin.


Read the article. You should hear her own account of the events – but I suspect it doesn’t do justice to what Ms. Fox must have been feeling – and what all the other people must have been feeling – as they were detained, barked at, yelled at, bullied, and humiliated by “professional agents.”

“When asked for comment about Fox’s account, Jaime Ruiz, a spokesperson for U.S. Customs and Border Protection at LAX, said,

“That is not how we treat passengers. We treat passengers with respect and professionalism. We have zero tolerance for passengers being treated unprofessionally.”

Well, Jaime, guess what – that’s how you *do* treat passengers. It happened. It was real. Any sort of statement or apology should include an assurance that steps will be taken to change things. Because it was not just Ms. Fox that was treated that way – it was an entire roomful of other human beings, many who did not even speak English and who don’t have the social status to get on the public radar.

The Greeks have a saying: “Η γλώσσα κόκαλα δεν έχει και κόκαλα τσακίζει” (The tongue has no bones, but it breaks bones.) Your dismissive statement will not heal the deep cuts to the spirit of this gentle lady, and all the other gentle ladies and gentlemen whom your agents treat with all the delicacy of a fourth-grade bully with his posse behind the school.

Another report at the Washington post states,

After returning to her home in Adelaide, Fox filed a complaint with the U.S. Embassy in Canberra and received a “charming” email in response. “I took it as an apology from all of America,” she says.

While I’m glad the embassy responded positively, and that the apology was well received, I have no doubt that the memory of the experience will never truly fade. One kind diplomatic functionary is good, but to eliminate this kind of abomination change must start at the top – because attitude rolls downhill. And from what I’ve seen, it’s the attitude at the top that is enabling this kind of jingoistic, xenophobic vileness.

Ms. Fox, I’m deeply ashamed by the actions of my government, and very sorry this happened to you.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

A historical weekend in Texas

Back in 2015, a wonderful thing happened to us – a longtime friend of my wife’s turned the big five-0, and her family all chipped in to bring my wife (and me, tagging along) down for the weekend as a surprise gift. They hadn’t seen each other for 11 years or so, and so it was a pretty good stunt. And we got the ancillary benefits.

The people in question live in Greenville, east of DFW. We got to visit their “Rally Round Greenville” downtown festival, which featured some fun ersatz bands such as Trio Grande, Infinite Journey, Pearl Gem, and Def Leggend, among others.

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Downtown Greenville

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Auto Show

If we hadn’t just gorged ourselves at a Chinese buffet – and I mean gorged – the street eats looked really tempting.

Later in the afternoon we had the chance to visit the Audie Murphy/American Cotton Museum. I had heard of Murphy, but had no idea what an amazing person he was.

But more than Murphy himself, I came away from that visit with a profound feeling of astonishment at the expense and ingenuity man put into ways and means of destroying one another, and a deepened sense of respect for all who ever wore the colors and the families that support them.

I learned a lot about the history of the cotton industry, as well.

Cotton Museum

Cotton Museum Display

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Slave cabin

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Audie Murphy

Audie Murphy Medal of Honor

Audie Murphy’s Medal of Honor

Audie Murphy Medals

Audie Murphy’s other medals.

A visit to the 6th Floor Museum was haunting, having lived through the days of the assassination.

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The Book Depository from the Grassy Knoll

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The view from the 6th floor. The “x” marking the spot where Kennedy was shot is in the center lane, just to the left of the white car.

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Nobody knows what kind of president Kennedy might have become if he had lived to complete his term and perhaps win a second one. We can only speculate.

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On the way to the airport for our trip home we dined at Taco Loco in Dallas. They make a mean taco, and have some varieties I had never experienced before.

All in all it was a stupendous trip and a great opportunity – we’re grateful to the family that flew us down for this lovely weekend.

The Old Wolf has spoken.