Monday, October 14, 2002 10:26 PM
part 5

A conference in New Orleans probably seemed like a good idea at the time, but September is not a good time for the idea. Hurricane Isidore had passed only days before the conference started, and Hurricane Lili was on its way. Roads were flooded to levels that covered cars, and even local people were leaving as we arrived, but we are fearless anti-virus people :-) and this was our day of living dangerously. Or something. We came, we saw, we stayed (because the hotel imposed a 6pm curfew).

The conference itself was moved from the second floor to the third floor of the hotel "just in case". Just in case? If the flood waters reached that high, I think that attending the conference would be the last thing on anyone's mind.

The entertainment for the first night was to be a ride on a paddle boat but that was cancelled. Perhaps the captain couldn't find anywhere to dock outside the front doors.

The beds were huge in the hotel. "King sized" is the term used to describe them. Whoever was the king on which they're based, he must have been very big. The beds are so large that one would need to pack lunch before attempting to get from one side to the other. Take a map and compass. Make sure that the pillows are always on the same side and you won't get lost. You might even meet the previous occupant coming from the other direction.

After the conference ended, I spent some time in Santa Monica. Since it was daylight when I arrived and still warm, I went for a walk without wearing shoes. In my entire time in Iceland, I was asked only a few times why I was not wearing shoes. No-one asked where they were, nor suggested any reason for why I wasn't wearing them. In less than one hour in Santa Monica, I was asked twice about my lack of shoes, but the question was not "where are they?"... it was "were they stolen?".

Food in the USA is a constant source of interest to me, but not for the usual reasons. My attention is caught by things like the text on the packaging of a chocolate biscuit - "nutritional value: none". Those were not the exact words, of course, but that was the meaning. Lots of numbers whose sum is zero, and more synthetic ingredients than natural ones. I never eat things whose ingredients have names that I can't pronounce. Another package made the bold claim that the cook spent years and tried over 200 combinations of carcinogen... er, absolutely harmless ingredients (all of those laboratory animals died of old age, at the same time, what a coincidence) to create the fine product that you are holding. The slogan is "A taste above". Above what? "Not a significant source of calories or fibre". At least they're honest about that part. I wonder how it came to be that of those 200 combinations of ingredients, any of them should be sodium benzoate, mono diglycerides, aluminium sulphate...

There was a survey in the newspaper about who eats fruit and vegetables. The fine print at the bottom of the page stated that french fries, fried potato, and potato chips, were excluded. It reminded me of the Hägar comic, in which Dr Zook tells Hägar to eat more fruit, and Hägar asks "Is pork a fruit?".

Another year after my last visit to the USA, and JP has a new house and a new fast car. The new house is twice the size of the last one, which was several times larger than my apartment in Australia. If the progression continues, then JP will be living in a castle within a few years, and driving a jet.

Our society is so heavily dependent on computers that they have become a background tool, whose potential for failure is not considered. This causes problems when they do fail, as they did on the night that I was leaving the USA to return to Australia. I joined a queue with plenty of time to spare, and waited and waited and waited... then the announcement came that my flight was boarding, and I was still waiting in the queue. Things like the possibility that I might miss the only remaining flight for that day, that I might have to find a hotel room for that night, that I might have to book another flight - these things make me nervous. When I'm nervous, I get shaky. When I get shaky, I'm obviously very attractive - I attract attention *instantly*. What happens then might depend on the direction in which I'm travelling. In Japan, it was approximately "you want to enter our country? Ohhh, then we'd like to search you and your bags and even then we'd prefer that you went away instead". In the USA, it was "you're leaving? Great! How can we help?", and I was ushered to the front of the queue, handed my ticket, and escorted to the plane which was kept waiting for me. To those who didn't know what was going on, I might have appeared to be a "VIP" - a Very Important Person. To those who did know, it was a "MarSHaL" case - Make Sure He Leaves.

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