An Americano For the American

by Eli Hodapp

heineken

The initial leg of my flight was pretty awesome. I got upgraded to an exit row, which meant I had enough leg room in front of me to quite literally stretch my legs out as far as they would go without hitting the seats in front of me. Unfortunately, this was also right next to the mid-plane bathrooms, but, whatever. I’ll take people wandering by in exchange for unlimited leg room.

On my plane was the American team of top pastry chefs on their way to France to compete in the 2013 World Pastry Cup which I guess is a thing. The captain announced them, they got an applause. I don’t know any chefs aside from the celebrity chefs, so I couldn’t say if anyone on the plane was famous or just really good at making tarts. The flight also provided my first humbling experience of how dumb you feel as an American leaving the country as the flight attendant that was working our section of seats was speaking five (5) different languages to the people around me.

English to the monolingual idiots like yours truly, as well as Spanish, French, German, and what I assume was Dutch. Our flight had a pretty strong tail wind, so we arrived at Schiphol close to an hour early which only made for a nastier layover. It turned out to be more than OK though as Schiphol is an amazing airport. Like most European airports, the shopping opportunities are insane, and there’s no shortage of all sorts of high-end things to look at.

The food was great too, I got an Americano from Starbucks just to see if my Starbucks card would work (It didn’t) and then some ridiculous breakfast sandwich from a nearby gourmet sandwich place. The girl taking orders at Starbucks spoke English, French, Spanish, and (again) what I assume to be Dutch while I waited for my coffee further reinforcing the whole “Wow, I am dumb” for only speaking one language thing.

I’ve been reading A Canticle For Leibowitz while flying (and waiting) and it’s fantastic although the vision of future technology written from the perspective of an author in the 1960’s is pretty hilarious. The third act of the book takes place in a time where nuclear space ships, interstellar travel, and extra-solar colonies are just everyday stuff yet a machine that basically is a bad version of Google Translate takes up an entire basement and barely works. Come to think of it, I’m not sure much “classic” Sci-Fi got the whole miniaturization of everything right.

My next flight was remarkably empty, and we were just told to “sit wherever” when we boarded as there were seriously no more than 8 people making the trip from Amsterdam to Marseille. I finished A Canticle For Leibowitz and briefly moved on to reading the unabridged version of Les Misérables before eventually deciding I was in no mood for reading a book this dense after around 150 pages. For what it’s worth, the beginning was great, I just required something trashy and mindless… So, Crichton’s Pirate Latitudes fit the bill as for whatever reason I never finished reading that when it was originally released.

Other than being empty, the flight was uneventful- No turbulence or even an interesting beverage service to speak of. Around 90 minutes later and we were in Marseille. I think the family sitting in front of me might’ve been someone important as they all had tons of jewelry on, including but not limited to platinum Rolxes (I notice these things!). I sat right behind them, so I was right on their tail when we got to the baggage claim where they went outside straight to a limo accompanied by one dude with an earpiece in while two other similarly dressed security guard looking guys with earpieces picked up their bags.

I waited for my bags by myself, with my stainless prole-lex, and boarded my security detail-free bus to the Marseille main transit station, Gare St. Charles. I was actually sort of surprised with my ability to navigate all this without needing to reference anything or anyone. European airports and public transit systems make so much sense that all you really need to know is roughly where your destination is on the map.

The bus ride in was a little creepy, as the driver took a substantially different route from what I remember taxi drivers taking in previous years. I’m staying in Vieux Port which is the incredibly nice city center, but the periphery of Marseille is incredibly dumpy. It puts you on edge as you drive in, as Marseille is a mixture of those totally stereotypical French countryside plaster walled terra cotta roofed buildings all in various states of disrepair. There are houses that look like they’ve had some sort of substantial fire that are just left to fall in on themselves, and then amongst them are these concrete monoliths of apartment buildings. These all look both incredibly minimalistic and starkly utilitarian.

Graffiti is everywhere. Nearly every surface that can hold a tag has been tagged and likely retagged to the point that you wonder if some of the worse-off houses are held up exclusively by layers of spray paint. It’s really weird, as once you ascend from the subway station of Vieux Port, you’d never know what you just drove through. Vieux Port is filled with ships, high-end restaurants, boutique shops, and hotels. The juxtaposition is crazy, considering you’re only a few miles from swaths of buildings just left to cave in on themselves.

I think what’s so interesting to me about this as an American is I’m not sure there’s anywhere that exists in our country where you can see buildings that are hundreds of years old and basically forgotten to time in the shadows of brand new skyscrapers. The super old and the really new, it’s just crazy to take in.

I tried really hard to stay awake, but eventually ended up falling asleep for an hour or two in the afternoon. Around 6:00 I met all my friends in the lobby, and we split up into multiple taxis to head to a different hotel for the initial meet and greet for the International Mobile Gaming Awards. Among the usual suspects of US gaming journalist friends of mine was two new faces- Two people with actual PhD’s in game design from Texas. It was super interesting listening to them talk about things, especially from a higher theory level.

We were all served a bunch of hor d’oeuvres, spent a few hours picking at them and talking, and then headed back to our hotel where I hung out for a bit and had a beer with my friends Brian and Mike. I’m back in my room now and debating popping some sleeping pills to try to go to sleep. Breakfast starts at 7:00 AM tomorrow, and something tells me I’ll be up and awake way before then if past experience is any indication.