Archive | May, 2012

Jury Duty

30 May

I have been selected to fulfill my part of the social contract and have been seated on a jury. You can be certain that I will be writing about it at some point, but of course fully sanitized of identifiers and not until the trial is over.

I did notice something funny during the Voir Dire part of the process (Questioning to make the jury selection). Right off the bat they take attendance. They asked us to say “Here,” or “Present” when our name was called.  About the first 19 of us said “Here.” Then someone said “Present.” I wondered about the psychology of that. I don’t even know how to articulate the question I’m asking myself really, other than “Why say present when everybody up until that point has said ‘Here’?” Why choose one word over another? Why make the conscious choice to say something different? Would you have said “Here” if everyone up until that point had said “Present?”

Weird.

So… I’m gonna get back to work on the travel entries. Watch this space.

Take good care.

 

 

 

 

© 2012 Roy Guill, The Naked Investigator

 

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Memorial Day 2010

27 May

Another re-post.

As of today 120 American troops have been killed in Afghanistan so far in 2012.

-Roy

(Originally posted as a Note on Facebook, May 31, 2010)

Today is Memorial Day in the United States. Sometimes we lose sight of what these holidays mean. We’ve Labor Day, President’s Day, Veteran’s Day, New Year’s…and the big ones, Independence Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas. In our secular nation, inclusive of all faiths, these are our high holy days. In keeping with our worship of nearly unlimited personal freedom we observe these days in whatever fashion we see fit. I notice that lately this mostly means get-togethers with friends, vacations and mattress sales. I’m not going to take up a bunch of your time bemoaning the lack of ritual in our modern and very diffuse society, but I am going to ask that you take just a little time to remember the meaning of this particular holy day.

“Freedom Isn’t Free,” a bumper-sticker cliché we’ve all used at one point or another. It implies a cost for the largely care-free existence we enjoy in these United States at the beginning of the 21st Century. But how often do we stop to examine that cost? Certainly at election time when we hear a lot about the defense budget. The deficit. The incomprehensible price of our two current wars. The efforts of this Senator or that Representative from whatever district who is trying to save jobs by saving the defense contract for a company in their hometown (Or a Senator or Representative from a different town who wants to look fiscally responsible by stopping it). But when do we examine the greater cost? The cost in lives? The bill that comes due and is collected in the blood of our sons and daughters, our neighbors and our friends when they put on our nation’s uniform, pick up a weapon and purposely put their bodies between us and our enemies? When?

Today.

There are many who answer America’s call to serve. Most will serve in a time of peace. Most will never see a battle. Many who do fight will return wounded in body and spirit, and some will not recover. We honor them on another holy day, and I certainly hope we all do our best to let them know every day that we appreciate their service. But today is not their day. Today is when we honor our dead. Today is Memorial Day. Today is the day when we count the cost, and that cost is high.

On April 19th, 1775, British troops arrived at Concord to find an American militia drawn up on the village green. The first American soldiers fell at Concord. Since that time Americans have fought in more than 40 named conflicts around the globe. Men and women wearing our uniform have given their lives on the beaches of tiny islands thousands of miles from our shores. They’ve died in forests in France, in Central America, China and gone to sea never to be heard from again. The life of every father, mother, son and daughter lost goes to that debt.

In all those years since Concord over 958,000 service members have died in combat. That is a rough average of 11 lives for every single day since April 19th, 1775. Today is the day we remember that in order for each of us to get up, leave our homes and go about our day freely and in peace, 11 fellow citizens have died. So that you and I can take our family vacation, so that we can sit and laugh with our friends by the pool, so that we can cook burgers on the grill and drink a beer…

A land owner carried his own musket to Concord and died fighting the British.

A father from Pennsylvania charged into massed cannon at Fredericksburg.

A man from Harlem died fighting alongside the French to take the village of Séchault.

A Marine died on a river in China.

The Captain of the USS West Virgina was killed by shrapnel at Pearl Harbor.

Someone’s brother drowned at Omaha Beach.

Someone’s husband fought the controls of his B-29 all the way down.

A sailor burned to death rather than leave his post on the Intrepid.

Someone’s sister died tending the wounded at Anzio Beach.

Someone’s son died in Afghanistan.

Someone’s daughter was killed by an IED.

“Freedom isn’t free.” 11 lives for every single day. That is the cost. That is why we take this day to memorialize.

Remember.

Roy Guill

May 31, 2010

American Cemetery above Omaha Beach, Normandy

© 2012 Roy Guill, The Naked Investigator

On being my own Travel Agent

27 May

Once upon a time there were such things as “Travel Agents.” This magical race now dwells in the same fairy realm inhabited by gas station attendants.  When I was last overseas as a lad of merely 20 years, I went to the travel agent when I wanted to go on a trip. I told them where I wanted to go and what I wanted to spend and a day or so later they handed me a printed itinerary and an envelope full of tickets and said “Have a nice trip.” It doesn’t work exactly that way anymore.

Planning our big trip took a while. Fortunately I had lots of help along the way. The first thing I did was ask some friends for their input. I asked my friend Scott, who lives in Colchester, if he had any recommendations for hotels inLondon. He pointed me to Purpleroofs.com, a guide to finding hotels around the world that are friendly to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender community. Yes, us hetero folks are allowed to use it too. Cool how that works, huh? While it isn’t very helpful in terms of reviews, it is a place to start and several hotels give a small discount for mentioning Purpleroofs when you book your stay. It saved us about $60 on our first hotel in London.

I also started out simply searching Google Maps for the keywords “Hotel” and “B&B.” While handy for seeing proximity to the major destinations and finding public transit routes this is a VERY time-consuming way to go about it.  Things moved along much faster after I found Tripadvisor.com. Tripadvisor lets you search by geographical area, price range, rating, you name it. After finding The George Hotel using Purpleroofs.com I found everything else through Tripadvisor.com. I know several people in the hotel industry and I’ve learned from them that people in the business take Tripadvisor very, very seriously. Since it is user generated there are some quirks, little things you need to be aware of going in.

1) Even the highest ranked hotel is going to have negative feedback. Somewhere along the line someone had a horrible time. The trick is to take in the big picture. What percentage of the feedback is negative? Did management respond with a plausible explanation? How long ago were the ratings given? If I see a place with 127 “Excellent” ratings and 1 “Terrible” I am inclined to dismiss it. If I see ratings going back several years with a wider distribution of positives and negatives and all the negative ratings are within the last 9 months it doesn’t matter the ratio, I’m likely to move on.

2) Who is complaining about what? I found this interesting. Tripadvisor.com gives you the option to list your nationality. (WARNING: Yes, I am about to stereotype some folks based on what I saw) When looking at the negative comments I determined that Americans are the most likely to complain about the size of a room. Australians complain about the quality of breakfast. The English complain about places no longer being “Family run.” (Near as I could tell this was code for “The person at the desk now has a foreign accent.”) The Southeast Asians seem to love every place they’ve ever stayed.  Most English-speaking people complained about the lack of a lift (Or the size of the lift if one was present) and the number and width of the stairs they had to climb equally and without regard to nationality (Although age appears to be a factor there).  As a caveat I will say that in general I didn’t take the time to translate comments from other languages into English. Also, I was looking for hotels in a handful of cities in Western Europe. A search in other parts of the world may turn up completely different trends. As there are big cultural differences, please take what people say with a big grain of salt. If I saw people across cultures and age groups complaining about the same thing, then I paid closer attention.

3) Actually contacting the hotel once you’ve settled on one can sometimes be an issue. Tripadvisor.com is user-generated. Sometimes you will run across a highly-ranked place that looks great and there is no link to the hotel’s page. You may have to do a little leg work on Google (Or your preferred search engine) to track them down. I remember there being one very well spoken-of place in Paris that I never could find a number or website for.

4) Information overload. You will eventually have to make a choice. Not counting Harlaxton Manor (Which is not open to the public, and since it was the sole reason for part of the trip there was never a question of NOT staying there) we stayed in 8 different hotels/B&B’s in three weeks. Finding those places took forever because I AGONISED over my choices.

Try to narrow down the criteria that are important to you, set a standard, and GO.  After taking nearly a week to find the first two hotels on our trip I settled into a set of criteria that moved things along a little more quickly;

A) Location. This takes into account not only physical proximity to the place we want to see, but access to public transit. In Paris, for example, we were a little off the beaten path, but only a 5-minute walk to the Metro, and could reach any destination in Central Paris in half an hour or less. In Ireland we had a car, and so positioned ourselves in Killarney. That put us on the Ring of Kerry and only a 30-minute drive to the base of the Dingle Peninsula.  In Normandy we had no vehicle and there was very limited public transit, so we stayed within walking distance of Omaha Beach.

B) En suite. This was a deal-breaker. While I’m not that keen on the idea myself, Julia absolutely will not do a shared bathroom. Period.  This has less to do with other people using the same shower or toilet than it does with wait times in the morning and having to get dressed to go use the can in the middle of the night. En suite or shared was an option almost everywhere we went. I’m ok with $10-$15 a night more to have a bathroom to myself.

C) Price. Like everybody else I set an amount and then raised it when I discovered what that amount would and would not get me. Rooms in major urban centers are costly. Decide how much of your budget will be given over to lodgings (A large percentage most likely) and move on.

D) Feedback. I set a percentage (85%) of positive to negative feedback below which I would not go. I used the percentage as a tiebreaker between places that were close in price.

Things I mostly ignored;

A) Complaints about the stairs/elevator. We’re still relatively young and in good shape. We made it a point to travel light. We had a few miserable shleps of course, but nothing that would have kept us from staying someplace again.

B) Complaints about street noise. We lived in New York City for seven years.  If it had ever gotten really bad (Which it did not), well… that’s what earplugs are for.

C) Room size. While a larger room is always convenient you mustn’t lose sight of why you need a place to stay…. Because you are out traveling and running about looking at stuff from morning till night! For the sort of trip we were on the room was a place to change clothes, shower, and sleep, it didn’t need to be an aircraft hangar. If you are staying in a single location for more than a week, then fine… yes… by all means get a place to stretch out in.

D) The food. This will, I am certain, shock some of you but I skipped right over the comments about food. Breakfast is included nearly everywhere we went in Europe, so it wasn’t a cost issue from one place to another (The places that did charge I simply didn’t eat there. This was the case in Paris, where the plan had always been to have pan au chocolat from the local patisserie every morning anyway). If I really didn’t like the food at a given place (Which never happened by the way) I could just pick something up from a bakery or fruit stand as we headed out for the day.

E) Internet access. Most places have it. One or two charge for it. It was always nice of course to be able to come back at night and upload pictures and cruise Facebook to stay in touch, but we weren’t there on business so when we couldn’t get online it wasn’t a huge deal.

Once you have found your hotels there is the little matter of getting to them.

Next time; Trains, Planes, and Automobiles!

Take good care.

© 2012 Roy Guill, The Naked Investigator

Happy Star Wars Day!

25 May

As I go forward with this little project I will occasionally use this as a space to give some old notes a more permanent home in front of a (Hopefully) wider audience. I originally posted the following on MySpace (Remember MySpace?) on May 25, 2007.

                                                     -Roy


Happy Star Wars Day! That’s right, thirty years ago today Star Wars opened and changed movies forever. I’m old enough to have seen it in the theatre during it’s original release. A long time ago in a cineplex two thousand miles away I  went to see it with my stepfather and again with my Cub Scout troop. That in itself is an indication of how different this film was. The notion of seeing a movie more than once was a little beyond the pale when I was a kid. The effect it (And the sequels that followed) had on me was profound, and continues to this day, despite the fact that I am no longer a child of eight and my imagination is no longer as fertile or malleable as it once was.

Not just a groundbreaking sci-fi film, but a good vs. evil story with universal appeal, Star Wars has become so deeply ingrained in our pop culture that it has attained the status of myth. The film has spawned literally hundreds of companies and industries, and made the films and effects we take for granted today possible. In addition to that, the characters, images and story lines have crept into our everyday lives in ways subtle and numerous beyond our ability to calculate (Here’s something I noticed. Watch the second Pirates of the Caribbean movie and see if you can assign Star Wars character names from the end of The Empire Strikes Back to the cast in the last scene. I’ll give you a hint: Start with the absent Jack Sparrow as Han Solo) Then there’s the merchandise. I’d love to be a fly on the wall in three thousand years as some archaeologist tries to sort out the meaning of the omnipresent plastic fetishes of a towering figure in a black helmet & mask, or a gnomic green creature with long pointed ears. Here and now, even the non-geek among us could easily identify more characters and quotes from the film than even they would think likely.

Now, I’m not going to deny my status as a Star Wars geek. I learned just how much of a geek a few years ago. I’m sure a number of you have heard this story, but it illustrates my point that even those who are not quite as obsessive know more than they think. When Julia and I lived inNew York our good friends William and Jenny lived upstairs. We were the Arnez’s & Mertz’s. We had an intercom system that allowed us to call up to each other and we had dinner together several nights a week. After Christmas one year William & Jenny came down one night for dinner and brought the new Star Wars Trivial Pursuit game William had gotten as a gift. Julia had a new Disney trivia game, so we decided to play both after dinner. We decided that boys vs. girls would be wildly unfair when we played the Star Wars game, since William and I were both “Geeks” of the highest order. So we played couple vs. couple. After a roll of the “Dice” (An R2-D2 digital number generator), Julia and I went first… We ran the board. We answered every, single, question, without getting one wrong and won the game without allowing William & Jenny a single turn. (Only later did it even occur to us that we could have missed one on purpose) Julia was frankly amazed at how much she knew about the movies, despite not really considering herself a big fan. Me, on the other hand…

As a child I had a record (An actual record album) called The Story of Star Wars. It was the audio from the film condensed into about an hour. I listened to it incessantly for years. I had Star Wars comic books and, when I was a teenager, novelizations of the movies. In elementary school we collected Star Wars cards. I had the entire Blue set. They even became a sort of currency when I was in the 5th grade. We used them as stakes in the before-and-after-school poker games after we got busted for gambling our lunch money. (Eventually they took away our decks of playing cards. We found a way to gamble on Uno, and at one point, jacks.) And, of course, I had the Star Wars dolls. They’re called “Action Figures” now, and maybe they were even then. When I was a kid, we called them dolls, and that was ok because it was Star Wars.

I had quite a collection of figures and ships when I was a kid. I mention that to people now and they say “Wow, those must be worth a pile of money now.” Well, they would be if they were in pristine condition and still in their packaging. I was a kid, they were toys, I played with them. Even now I think they were more valuable to me in that way than as an artifact in a box on a shelf.

As an adult there are still little things that I hardly even think about. A few years back I was out on a job in Manhattan with my partner Phil, when the Millennium Falcon somehow came up in conversation. Phil (About 15 years my senior) had never seen the films and asked “What’s the Millennium Falcon?” I couldn’t help myself, I really couldn’t. It was automatic. “You’ve never heard of the Millennium Falcon? It’s the ship that made the Kessel run in less than twelve parsecs.” Darth Vader appears on the front of my cell phone with R2-D2 and C-3PO on the back (The ringtone for most callers is the “Imperial March”). And every time I return to Las Vegas on the I-15 and see the city spread out across the valley I always, always, think the same thing (Sometimes I even say it out loud):

“Mos Eisley spaceport. You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. We must be cautious.”

There are, of course, people who are much farther ’round the bend than I am. While pervasive, there are levels to the influence the Star Wars phenomenon has over peoples lives. I know people who build exact replicas of props and costumes from the films. There is an entire cottage industry built around finding and supplying the original parts from which Luke’s prop light saber was constructed. Even within this culture, there is a sub-culture. I am reliably informed that the R2-D2 costume people will readily share measurements, designs and tips on how to build an R2-D2. The Boba Fett people, however, are extremely closed-mouthed on the subject. (I’ve suggested the Princess Leia slave girl outfit to somebody I know…)

Ultimately, no matter the level of effect the stories have had on one’s life,  I think it is the blending of timeless story elements and iconic cues that make Star Wars universally accessible. It’s Feudal Japan and the Arthurian legends. It’s Nazi Germanyand Laurel & Hardy. It’s the American Wild, Wild West with a dash of Imperial Rome. All of these combined have given us a new mythology. We have our Zeus and Hera now, but these days they don’t appear out of the clouds flinging lightning bolts. They carry blasters and light sabers and fly an X-Wing fighter, or an old Corellian transport.

I’ve accomplished something on the order of a small miracle. I’ve managed to get today off from work. I am now turning off my cell phone and going downstairs. I am going to close the blinds and watch all six movies (In chronological order of release, and with the un-f*#!ed with versions of episodes IV, V, and VI).

May the Force be with you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

© 2012 Roy Guill, The Naked Investigator

Well, here goes…

22 May

Over the years one or three of you have suggested that I write a book, or at the very least a blog. As I am whole-heartedly behind doing the very least… a blog it is.

However, this is probably not what you imagined. I intend to write about as many different subjects as possible, but since I also intended to be an astronaut you’d do well to not be too disappointed if things don’t go to plan. Odds are this little endeavor will eventually skew toward my daily adventures as an investigator for your friendly neighborhood private detective agency. I like NASCAR, maybe I’ll write about that. I’m a recovering actor big into Roman history and Doctor Who.  Might write about some of that. By a happy chance I have just returned from a three-week vacation in Europe with my lovely young bride so I will definitely be writing about THAT.  In fact I am pretty sure this will be a travel blog for the foreseeable future.

Some of you are writers. Actual honest-to-goodness-“People-pay-you-for-the-words-you-put-on-paper” WRITERS.  I am not. I did have a poem published in a journal of formal metrical poetry about 1,236 years ago. I got a proof copy of the journal and a nice letter but nobody sent me a check. I am well aware that this doesn’t make me a capital W Writer any more than stalking your ex on Facebook makes you an investigator.  So, I would appreciate your feedback should you choose to give it.  I do plan to eventually write that detective novel using my personal experiences as the framework for a fictional story, but I know enough to know that I don’t know the first thing about writing a book.  I’m taking a stab at the “Chuck ‘em in and see if they swim” school of writing.

And so…

In the summer of 2001 things were going really well for us.  Julia temped for law firms and trading houses downtown and worked for a theatre upstate in the summer months.  I made an absurd amount of money working as an investigator for a detective agency inManhattan.  We’d saved up a nice chunk of money and decided we needed to take a trip. On the whole we weren’t the take-a-vacation sort. Generally the only reason we traveled was to visit family around holidays and birthdays.  We’d just discovered NASCAR and would soon start going to one or two races a year but we never went somewhere, you know, just to GO somewhere. We always had a very specific activity in mind that dictated the destination.

We decided to take A Trip. We decided it would be A Big Trip.  We decided to go to Ireland and spend 10 days riding across the country on horseback, staying each night in a different castle.  We had the money, we had the flexibility in our schedules at work, so why not?

We were in the early planning stages of this trip when some terrorist assholes killed a few thousand of our neighbors.  Everything was put on hold. The agency I worked for slowly imploded. We gradually emptied our savings to pay bills. Eventually we moved to another city, rolling into town just about flat broke and having to start all over again.

We went back to being the people who traveled just to see family.  We flew home for birthdays and Christmas and to go to a NASCAR event on the East Coast once a year (Which also eventually became a family event).  We went to other cities to visit people or to work, not just to go.

About 8 years went by before we again entertained the notion of taking A Trip.  Julia bought me a copy of 1,000 Places To See Before You Die by Patricia Schultz. We looked through the book.  We picked a few destinations. We decided we wanted to take A Big Trip. We figured out we didn’t have enough money.

Having been in this very spot before we became determined we were going to make our trip happen this time. Oh and by the way, this wasn’t going to be just A Big Trip but A BIG FREAKING TRIP and that meant some Advance Planning, some Organization, and more than a little Fiscal Discipline.

Fortunately Julia excels at this sort of thing.  We sat down and did a rough sketch of the trip we wanted to take. After checking a few travel sites for hotel and flight prices, looking at exchange rates, taking a stab at budgeting for food and local travel, adding a percentage for inflation and a general wiggle factor since it was ME doing the math I came up with a number. That number was $10,000.

That was a big damn number. We didn’t have $10,000.  Coming up with $10,000 wasn’t even close to being in the cards anytime soon. This is the point at which this could have all very easily fallen apart but for the fact that I have Julia on my team. Julia came up with the Fiscal Discipline/Organization part.  It went like this;

We set a date three years in the future. We’d have to wait to take the trip we wanted, but that would mean getting to take the trip we wanted.  We made saving for the trip a priority. This is actually the really important part, the deciding to do it part.  Once we committed to the trip being a top priority the rest was just math and being patient. Seriously, if you take nothing else from this rambling missive remember this: You can take a big damn freaking dream vacation if you decide it is more important than some smaller things and if you are willing to wait a couple of years.

Julia calculated the number of pay periods in those three years and then divided 10,000 by that number. That was the amount we needed to save out of each check. We set up an ING Savings account online and had the amount automatically deducted from our credit union account each month. That would give us the $10,000 in three years time (Not counting the small amount of interest we would earn. Ah how I remember the heady days of 6.5% APRs on a basic savings account… god I miss the 90’s!). We set monthly budgets and any savings we realized were put into the vacation account. The grocery is the best example. I set a weekly budget for food.  At the end of the month if I managed to come in under that amount the difference went into the vacation account. I re-started the accounting every month.  We kept up monthly payments on obligations that were paid off, “Paying ourselves” a car payment for example after we got the title to Julia’s car. We were already adjusted to paying that amount every month, so it was no great hardship to simply add half that amount to the automatic monthly transfers to ING. I also got a credit card with a cash back reward. There is a big trap that is easy to fall into with these, so it is important to pay the card off every month, otherwise you are paying more in interest than the card company is paying you back (Which is exactly what they hope will happen).  I used the card mostly for reimbursed work expenses (Particularly gasoline), so by and large I was earning a cash reward on money that wasn’t coming out of my pocket. By the time we got on the plane we had actually saved over $12,000.

Once we set the savings plan in motion we had a couple of years to wait. That gave me time for the Advance Planning. Boy howdy do I loves me some Advance Planning!  Seriously.  I’m a “Worst Case Scenario” contingency plan kinda’ guy.  What could go wrong right this very moment? What’s your plan of action for when it does? It’s been 23 seconds… the situation has changed… what’s the new plan?  I like to know as much as I can know in advance.  How do I get from Paris Saint Lazare Station to Paris Nord Station by subway? How do I get from Centraal Station inAmsterdamto the hotel via tram? These are things I was able to sort out from my dining room table given three years to plan. When I was 12 my family went to Disney World. My stepfather got a little booklet that described all the rides and what type of tickets they took (If you know what an “E-Ticket Ride” is congratulations… you’re old).  I pored over it for months, reading it again and again and studying the map of the park so that when I got there I would HAVE… A…PLAN. Not much has changed.

Things were pretty fluid until I made that first reservation.  It happened that I spent a semester in England when I was in college.  For 4 months I lived in and attended classes at Harlaxton Manor. I very much wanted to spend at least one night there, and to show Julia the manor.  I contacted the Events Coordinator for the college eight months before the tentative start date for our trip and asked about getting a room. There was a room available on May 2, 2012. That was it. May 2. So everything else had to be booked around that date.  Not too much later we learned our niece would be graduating nursing school on May 12, 2012. That gave us a “Must return by” date and I was offski!

More on planning and the actual trip later. As you can see my prose could use some polishing, particularly in the “Bringing the narrative to a close” department.

(Truth is, I’m writing this in the van and my battery is about to die)

More soon.

Take good care.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

© 2012 Roy Guill, The Naked Investigator