Sunday, September 30, 2007

Mitzvahs --> Karma --> ???

I love the wee hours of the morning... the quiet solitude lets my mind start to murmur. Recently, lots of these meandering thoughts have drifted towards the notion of mitzvah (Hebrew word for an "act of human kindness")… well, i’m thinking about good deeds up until the cacophony of the neighborhood construction workers knocks me into the stupor of the daylight.

A bit of yogurt and a kick of caffeine later, i’m feeling good and ready to spread the love. in the Jewish tradition, there are 613 mitzvahs enumerated in the Torah (sorry, i don't have these memorized)... and there are many more good deeds which may be divined from these commandments (ie, walking an old lady across the street).

One great way to help out is a blood donation. After sept 11th, there was an enormous spike in donations… but it seems like W took over the blood bank given the surging deficit, especially for blood type O—the universal donor.

In order to be a viable donor, you must be at least 17 years old, weigh at least 110 pounds, and feeling healthy. Men who have taken propecia must wait at least one month. Although I’m sincerely skeptical of this requirement (seems to lack authoritative medical studies), men who have had sex with other males since 1977 are barred. (even though one could have unprotected heterosexual sex at any time and still donate?) Oh, and you can’t donate within 12 months of getting a tattoo or piercing. Anyone left? You can donate by surfing: Just type in your zip code, select the date and time of a convenient blood drive, and complete the quick login.

Ok, needles make you squirm. Another option is you can give a kickstart to a cash-starved entrepreneur from a developing country. This ain’t a donation... it is a zero interest loan. There has not been a single default in the history of these loans (which isn’t a guarantee, but it is a much better track record than some AAA-rated corporations). It has been AWESOME to feel like a financial partner to the startup seamstress or the local drinking spot. Kiva is the brainchild of Jessica Flannery, GSB classmate and one of the most effervescent and compassionate people. Check it out:

Kiva has received a spate of press including a front page story in the SF Chronicle today, a mention in President Clinton’s recent treatise on giving, and a feature on Oprah. Yeah Jess!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

An Aisle Apart

We all know it absolutely sucks to be stuck in the middle seat. we've done the math. 3 seats. 6 arms. 4 armrests. Of course, no one ever discusses a fair plan to divvy up the armrest. instead, the proper decorum is silent elbow jockeying... most passengers employ the same strategy as the settlers in the 1889 Oklahoma Land Rush: get there first and stakeout the armrest. But even the most hurried snatching of the in-flight magazine could result in the Seat B passenger reclaiming the prime spot on the armrest. Oh well, being a single guy and resigned to flying economy for the imminent future, I guess I can accept this fate.........

But, why do some married couples not sit next to each other on a flight? well, they kinda sit next to each other... but occupying adjacent aisle seats... and forcing one more last-minute traveler into the middle seat purgatory. Did they not make that vow to take so-and-so "to be my wife, to have and to HOLD from this day forward?"

Well, why don't they hold them... this day... on this flight? heck, they don't even need to hold them, just share one of the armrests. I can totally understand if the flight didn't fill up and there are empty seats... but otherwise, you might as well share that armrest with your spouse and not me.

ok, i'm just a bit bitter. i got stuck in the middle seat from vegas (or "Lost Wages" as the southwest airlines person termed) to oakland and i lost the armrest rush.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Going back to Cali

Back in college, there was an epic story of a pledge that pulled off a “fake pass out” in order to sidestep the late night hazing. At the time I thought pretty weak… but after being stuck on a 12 hour flight shouldering the head of tourism for Croatia, I’m ready to reconsider. Why? I tried to talk to her… I thought a little conversational aikido might channel her loquaciousness towards some more intriguing topics. Wait for it... wait for it... Not so much. So, no I didn’t pull the fake pass out… but I came close. Even though my iPod was out of juice after watching a couple of MadMen episodes (if you haven’t watched, you’re missing out on something special), I acted as if I was locked into listening to some tunes. i think i actually tweaked my neck from overselling the head bob. karma.

The final count:
* number of countries visited (include slovenia since in bathroom during passport check?): 10
* miles traveled: 24,000+ (air) + 3,500 (train) + oodles (walking)
* job offers: 1 (thank you to whomever sent in an application on my behalf to become a chairlift operator at Breckenridge for the ’07 – ’08 season)
* glasses of free tap water at the European restaurants: zero
* digital photos on my computer: 1,100 (over 800 are cono’s and ricky’s)
* penpals: 3
* fantasy football drafts: 2
* And one great time

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Meanwhile back in Munich...

“In München steht ein Hofbräuhaus, eins, zwei, g’suffa!”

Our Sunday evening reminded me of a few college memories: a) rugby… or at least the post-game celebrations where whoever scored a tri had to “shoot the boot”—meaning fill up the size 15 muddy rugby cleats and drink a full beer out of them. The rest of the team would be singing drinking songs, including the cheeky ballad “I used to work in Chicago…” b) A former backup Stanford offensive lineman, 6’4”, 290, #62. Although a google search suggests he might be working in the city of Palo Alto, his doppelganger is the hired muscle for the Hofbräu Haus.

Our plan was to just have a quick drink and a bite to eat to check the box that we hit up a bierhaus … but at the Hofbrau things can change faster than Superman in a telephone booth. Two older couples joined us at our table… seemed innocent enough. A little small talk, another liter of beer, a couple prosts, another liter, a few recommendations for the next leg of our journey, another liter… and then before you can say “weltanschauung,” Ricardo and Mark had the other gentlemen’s ties, I was locked in an arm wrestling competition, and Lia was wearing a cookie heart necklace. It was such an extraordinary night that we’ll be mailing 40+ digital pics to Walter, the 90-year-old German mackdaddy just so he also has a few mementos.

We had a few more days to stir up some trouble so we did a quick loop to Vienna. By now, we were running on fumes and we didn’t even have our Lonely Planet concierge service to guide us to the best spots. Fortunately, we were staying at the Wombat Hostel which had a complimentary map and list of recommendations. We did the sightseeing stuff—walked throughout the Inner Stadt, the historical heart and primary district in Vienna featuring St. Stephens Cathedral, Hofburg Palace, and the State Opera House. Along with a day trip to Grinzing, which is supposedly the Napa Valley of Vienna with 700 hectares of vineyards… embarrassingly, we didn’t make it to a single winery.

On the final night of international travel, what better way to cap it off than doing a live fantasy football draft at 4 am. It didn’t have to be that way, but the yahoo servers failed us 24 hours earlier.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Come N See: Chiemsee

We journeyed to a quaint, bucolic town for the wedding weekend. The Bavarian countryside is dotted with a number of these miniscule towns separated by rows of cornfields, small tree groves and rolling hills. A bunch of threadlike roads twist through the undulating terrain which provide for some enchanting panoramas… that is, until a BMW (or audi) screeches around the blind corner right in the center of the street and at the last possible moment, dives right allowing you to slowly meander along until the next blind corner. I actually even complimented Ricardo on his safe driving (measured relative to the other Bavarian drivers).

I woke to birds chirping with the sun rays kissing my cheeks… (actually, we woke up to the pitter patter of rain and cars careening by, but I appreciate the poetic license to set the tone). The wedding was set in a cozy church nestled in the hills. The pews were the most upright ever, actually, the top wooden railing obliged everyone to lean into the proceedings. I thought the wedding was a perfect fit for couple: informal (children sitting on the kneelers, and at a few times racing up to the pulpit), vivacious (two dynamic careeners which the couple had seen in concert, led the church in some rousing renditions of “He’s got the Whole World in his Hands” and “Lean On Me”), and romantic (they had a wedding quote which was loosely translated to me into English and the words are too hot for print… and the most intense church kiss ever).

We had a few hours down time in the afternoon to recharge for the evening’s festivities… Quite fortuitous that I took a nap, they should’ve made it mandatory in the wedding itinerary.

The wedding reception came in two doses: first, more traditional dinner + toasts and second, party til you drop. Although the speeches were all in German, I could not have been more engaged. Brink’s father was a terrific orator… it was easy to tell based on the confident, unwavering delivery. He even incorporated us Americans into the speech breaking into English thanking us for making the long trip (our pleasure) and suggesting that the language of friendship is universal and needs no translation. I could not agree more! Oh, he did break from German on one other occasion to share that the family motto: “at first, you sink into his arms. Before you know it, your arms are in the sink.”

The ebb and flow of the proceedings was engrossing and contagious. It was Michael’s and Daniela’s most special day of the year and they could not have been more altruistic in the ways they were able to share with their friends and loved ones. We all felt like royalty. (Coincidentally, the party was in a castle... like a real, live castle, with a drawbridge entry and a knight in armor) They even selected a DJ that most people thought was my double… you be the judge.

Random observation delivered from Microsoft Word spell check… how come “coincidently” and “coincidentally” are both proper English words, but “regardless” and “irregardless” are not. I think the two latter options should be used for preambles into thoughts that warrant greater emphasis.

After a couple hours of sleep, I stumbled out of bed to the detox brunch. The same caterer that faithfully served us libations til 6am was dutifully and almost cheerfully divying out some wonderfully heavy (RE: alcohol absorbing) breakfast. Can you refer to Bavarian sausage as a delicacy? Well, this one we were required to peel the skin before coating with some sweet yellow mustard and wolfing down. I think I could've given Kobayashi a run for his money in this eating competition.