Thursday, April 29, 2010


Joyce and I left just enough time to drop off our rented VW bug near the Cozumel ferry station and catch the 7pm boat to Playa del Carmen. We had loaded all our luggage and food into the old bug, drove to the ferry terminal and dropped Joyce and the bags off, then I drove to the nearby car rental shop to return it. I walked back to meet Joyce. She was feeling peckish, so she went in search of nibbles while I stood watch over our pile of stuff.

One of the bags held our traditional mini-keg of Heineken, and we'd remembered to bring paper cups, so I poured myself a beer. I lit a Cohiba cigarillo. It started to rain again. The wind picked up. I glanced at the time and started to wonder if Joyce would make it back in time for the ferry. I poured myself another beer, and an elderly man riding a bike with a wooden homemade luggage cart pointed at it and said something in Spanish. I asked him "how much" in Spanish (one of the few Spanish words I can use with any sort of command) and he replied "only tips". Sold.

The man and I began loading the luggage and bags of food onto his cart. Joyce arrived just in time to start boarding the ferry. We walked past the gate, but the man on the bike had to go a separate path to get to the ferry. I wondered if we'd ever see our stuff again, but there he was waiting by the ferry to help unload our bags.

We took a seat near the front of the ferry. I poured another beer out of the Heinekeg for myself and one for Joyce. Shortly thereafter the ferry boat backed out of the terminal and headed west toward Playa del Carmen. And then the swaying started.

I don't get seasick. Never have. But this boat ride was the rockiest I've ever been on, so my stomach would be tested. Apparently the crew knew that too, because one of the crew members walked down the aisle to pass out barf bags. Not really walking down the aisle, more like being thrown from seat to seat in the aisle path while clutching the handles to stay upright.

It was insane. I could hear several people coughing up barf. Passengers were saying "woaaaaahhhaooohhh" as the ship surged over another huge wave. It started to smell like vomit. But the rolling didn't affect me. When the undulation died down enough, I poured myself another beer from the keg. Somehow, Joyce had the focus to be able to read a book.

I texted my friend Jesse to tell him how crazy the boat ride was. Jesse had originally told me about the ferry from Cozumel, and how the party doesn't have to stop when you get on the ferry. Clearly his party was a much different affair than mine.

The swaying started up again. Luckily I'd finished my beer. The rocking got worse. I could hear more people puking. The crew member lady was thrown in my direction and she offered me a barf bag. I took it. I started to understand how people could get seasick. But now I had more pressing matters to deal with. I had to pee.

Getting to the bathroom would be no easy task. I timed my movements to the lulls in the waves. I got up out of my seat, stood in the aisle holding the handgrips and steadied myself. I waited for another wave to go by. I lurched toward the restroom. There were seats across from the door to the restroom, so I took a seat. Or more like the boat sat my ass down with another sideways swerve.

After another wave, I got up and grabbed the handle to the restroom and opened it. A woman was inside, standing at the sink. I said "sorry" and slammed the door shut as another wave threw me back into the waiting seat. There was another restroom to the left of this one. A crew member was sitting in another waiting seat. He gestured with his arm toward the other restroom. "Would you like to use the restroom?" he asked. I laughed. I didn't have the composure to tell him "How the hell do you expect me to get over to that door right now?!?!??!!" I was too busy trying to counteract the forces of the sea.

At the best point in the wave, I stood up and reached for the door and opened it. Nobody inside this time. The next boat pitch threw me into the bathroom, slamming the door behind me and seating me onto the toilet. I briefly thought about standing up to pee, but I knew that wasn't going to be possible without pissing all over myself.

The bathroom visit completed, the boat jerked me back into my seat next to Joyce. I thought about filling another cup of beer, but my stomach told me that wasn't such a good idea. I gripped the barf bag tightly, hoping I wouldn't have to use it. And then we docked. Passengers couldn't get off the ferry fast enough. We exited the boat into more torrential rain. And to our delight, another man with a bike and a homemade luggage rack waited to carry our bags to the next hotel.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Round and Round

Despite the torrential rain and forecast of thunder and lightning, Mexicana flight 345 to Cancun landed on time and without incident. And being the optimist that I am, I had left exactly 20 minutes breathing room between landing and takeoff for the last leg of my journey: Puddle-jumping to Cozumel on AeroMexico flight 9713 operated by Maya Air.

When I was originally scheduling flights, I imagined myself darting from the gate in Cancun to the puddle-jumper. I would only have a carry-on bag. And because I would have already flown from LAX to Mexico City, I would've gone through immigration. It would be a quick hop-skip-jump to the next gate. I mean really, how big could the Cancun airport be?

But when I reached the end of the jetway in Cancun, the airport personnel were leading us through a series of barriers to a shuttle in the rain. I briefly considered making a break for it, but seeing's how one of my travel companions had already been detained by the Policia Federal de Mexico and subsequently deported back to the U.S. of A., I stayed with the rest of the herd.

As soon as the shuttle doors opened, I speed-walked to the nearest info booth and said in my best broken Spanish "I'm missing my flight". The nice info people pointed me toward the airport security, where the guy asked for my passport. Flashing before my eyes were scenes from Midnight Express and visions of what my deported friend might have experienced, but the security guy calmly told me to go through the doors and to the left to get to the gates.

I started running toward an unknown destination. I was eventually re-routed back toward ticketing, where I squeezed past the line and up to an AeroMexico ticket agent. I showed her my printed receipt. She quickly looked up the flight on her screen, and then she told me that the flight was operated not by AeroMexico but Maya Air, and that I'd have to go to Terminal 3 instead of Terminal 2, where I was standing. She pointed toward the exits and instructed me to take a shuttle to the correct terminal.

Luckily the shuttle was waiting right outside. I hopped on board and asked the driver if he was going to Terminal 3 and he said "sí". The shuttle rambled around in reverse and slowly wound its way into traffic. The hope of making my flight was sinking. And it hit rock bottom when I arrived inside Terminal 3 and discovered that no flights from AeroMexico or Maya Air depart there. An airport employee instructed me to go to Terminal 1 by using the shuttle outside.

The same shuttle was outisde, so I hopped on. There are only 3 terminals at the Cancun airport, so logically the next one was Terminal 1. The shuttle rambled around in reverse and slowly wound its way into traffic. It drove around for a longer period of time than the last shuttle ride, which I assumed was because it had to start all over again by driving around from Terminal 3 to Terminal 1. I looked out the window and wondered how long the rain would last.

I got off the shuttle, went inside, and saw that we were again at Terminal 2. My flight was most certainly speeding down the runway by this point, so at least the need to rush was over. I got back on the shuttle and specifically asked the driver for Terminal 1. One other guy got on and asked for Terminal 1 as well, so I wondered if the shuttle only went to Terminal 1 when asked for.

The shuttle pulled up to Terminal 1, which was markedly less active than the other two. The other guy and I stepped down from the shuttle and wandered in a direction we assumed was correct, stepping over puddles the whole time. I found the sliding doors, which were stuck in the open position with a soaked piece of cardboard lying in the gap. I couldn't decide whether that was intended as a doormat or just a piece of wet cardboard.

Stepping into the terminal, I was greeted by a scene straight out of I Am Legend. It was dim and there was nobody in sight. The escalator wasn't moving. And it looked as if nobody had been in there in years. The other guy following me seemed to have the same reaction I did, because we both turned and got the hell out of there in a hurry. But we had a bit of a nervous laugh when we tried to make sense of the situation. We walked in the only logical direction, which was along the outside toward three men hanging out smoking.

As we approached the three men, all wearing yellow raincoats, one of them looked up and said something in the fastest Spanish I've ever heard. When he realized neither of us could comprehend what he said, he blurted out "Cozumel?" I knew I'd found my savior. I held up my damp ticket receipt and said "I missed my flight". He tossed his cigarette into a puddle and said "come with me".

We went inside and around a corner to what I assume was the offices of Maya Air. He went behind a desk and stood while typing something onto a laptop. "How many bags to check?" he asked. I pointed at my backpack and told him I didn't have anything to check. He finished his typing and said "We'll be boarding in about 5 minutes. Please have a seat over there."

I couldn't believe it. After all the terminal madness, I was getting on a flight straight away. I sat down opposite a man wearing a suit and reading a newspaper. A few minutes later, a hot young thing in flight gear asked me if I spoke Spanish. She led me and the other man through security, onto the soaked tarmac, and eventually to an airplane suited for 1973. The flight was quick, the view was decent, and we landed without too many bumps.

It was more sunny in Cozumel than it was in Cancun, which wasn't saying much. I wandered away from the airplane and searched for the nearest taxi to take me to the hotel. I rounded a corner and saw a few people cozying up to a mini-cart with a sign that said Margaritaville on it. It was then that I realized I was on vacation.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Always Something There to Remind Me (part 2)


I raced over to the nearest Big 5 location, the Brentwood area, cursing every red light along the way. The clock was ticking louder and louder, because I knew that once the children went back outside to play, it was only a matter of time before some kid found my ring and there'd be no telling if they'd be telling.

I arrived at Big 5 and as I passed the cashier saying "can I help you?" I asked "where's the metal detectors". She pointed toward the back and I made a beeline to the goods. For some reason they were situated next to the guns. And nobody was behind the register where the guns and metal detectors were kept, so I briefly considered opening the gate to get to the other side of the counter and grab the metal detector.

It was a good thing I didn't because an employee arrived and opened the gate and it made a loud buzzing noise. I suppose to keep random people like myself from grabbing things like metal detectors or guns. I might as well have been jumping up and down pointing and saying " that one! that one", and the guy handed me the metal detector that happened to be on sale that week for 100 bucks. I practically ran to the front register to buy the thing, but as I made my way, I read on the box that the metal detector needed a 9V battery. Good thing I checked.

My memory of what a 9V battery was or looked like escaped me, but the Big 5 salesperson was on the case. He found the nearest battery display and found a 9V. Those are the batteries that have both the + and - on one end and gives a shock when you press it on your tongue. I brought the metal detector and the batteries to the register, handed over my credit card. I scanned the return policy sign to see if they didn't take metal detectors.

Soon I was out the door, into my car, and racing back to the preschool. But I pulled over after having a vision of getting to school, turning the metal detector on and it not working. I parked in some residential neighborhood in the northwest part of Santa Monica. The only people around were guys with lawnmowers and the elderly. I pulled the metal detector out of the box, half-assedly assembled it and ripped the 9V batteries out of the package.

Upon inserting the 9V into the designated slot in the metal detector, it wouldn't fit. I tried to cram it in more. Nope. I found some random plastic toy in my car to attempt to pry it in more. At that point I knew I'd break the damn thing, so I figured I'd just try to hold the battery in place with my vice-grip of a hand and see if it worked.

Out of the car flew me and my new metal detector. I stumbled over to the nearest lawn and threw my keys on the ground and turned on the metal detector. I didn't know what setting to choose, but I kept pushing buttons until it looked right. I passed the metal detector over the keys. "Beep!" said the detector, and that's all I needed to get back into the car and hurry to the preschool.

When I arrived at the school, I saw that the staff had arranged a bunch of orange safety cones at the perimeter of the sand area around the swings. Most, if not all of the kids were outside playing, but they were respecting the cone area and not playing by the swings. I carried the metal detector in through the gates and children immediately took notice. I mean, as a 3 to 5 year old, how could you not notice a strange contraption like that? So of course the kids started gathering around me, walking with me toward the swings.

And immediately the questions began: "Where did you get that?", "What is that thing?" "What are you gonna do with that?" "Why did you lose your ring?" I explained that it was a metal detector that I bought at the store, and I would use it to find in the sand the hunk of metal buried that was my wedding ring. As soon as I started waving the contraption around over the sand and it beeped a few times, even more children came by to find out what was going on.

A few of the kids started ignoring the safety cone perimeter for a closer look. It beeped so I put the detector down and dug around with my hands a bit only to find a penny. I waved the metal detector around some more and found more change. One of the teachers told the kids to keep their bodies away from the sand so I could search without interference. The children generally listened, but kids can only be expected to keep away from something as exciting as a metal detector for so long. And they started to dig around in the other corners of the sand area.

One kid grabbed a pint-sized plastic shovel and started digging, sending sand everywhere. The thought crossed my mind that sand flinging could potentially be flinging my ring in a direction that I'd already scanned with the detector. So I gently told the kid to scram.

After holding the 9V battery in place for a while, my hand started to feel the burn. I switched the hold of the detector to my other hand and arm. I must have passed over the same area at least 30 times. Things started looking bleak. It was approaching lunch time, and today was "hot lunch" day for the kids. So several of the parents were there to help out. And to witness the sand sweeper action. I received countless more questions from the parents like "What did you lose?" "How did it fall off your finger?" "Are you sure it didn't go over there?" I tried my best to be polite as I showed my re-enactment of the ring flying off my finger, and where the ring would have logically fallen off. The sun beating down on me in the sand area didn't help with the politeness part.

One parent named Basil, the father of a good friend of Judah, came by wearing a suit. He didn't ask questions. Maybe one of the other parents already filled him in. Or maybe he had been in the same situation. Whatever the case, he got down to the business of digging through sand without saying a word. Finally he asked if I had already scanned this area or that, and we narrowed the search down to only the area where the ring always fell off in my re-enactment. I found a metal spike like a nail in the sand, and I was glad that no kid had found it first.

A short while later his wife Jennifer came by and started digging as well. Luckily it wasn't a big week for the local cats to be pooping in the sand area. Jennifer asked if I had dug around by the poles at all. I told her that the metal detector would always beep around the poles, because they're metal, but I had dug around them anyway and didn't find anything. Basil grabbed a large plastic milk crate type container and started sifting sand. We did a few large crates full, and I was about ready to give up. I turned around and Jennifer had a huge smile on her face and she was holding my wedding ring .

I exclaimed "where was it?" and she said "Right here next to the pole". Of course. Exactly where the metal detector was beeping the most. I said a million thank you's, and informed the entire school that my ring was found by Jennifer. I showed them the ring to prove it.

The next day I went back to Big 5 and returned the metal detector without as much interrogation as I expected. I can only imagine that people who buy those things have a specific purpose, and once that purpose is completed, back goes the metal detector.

After that little exercise in sand digging, I decided to keep my wedding ring where it could always be found: Inside the confines of my home. In the ring's place on my finger, I'm considering a ring-sized tatoo that says "Lily". For sure that would never fly off.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Always Something There to Remind Me

Possibly one of my biggest fears is losing my wedding ring. Not being eaten by a crocodile. Not falling from a skyscraper. But having the symbol of my marriage disappear from my sight, never to be found again. Lily doesn't inspire that fear. Yes, she'd be upset. She'd be more than upset, she'd be really pissed. But she'd forgive me at some point. But I don't think I'd ever forgive myself.

And I know that somewhere in the archives of Lee Lee the Musical Bee, I've written at least once about losing my wedding ring. And one would think that I'd be more careful. And from now on I'm going to be more careful. But in the meantime, I lost my wedding ring.

It was a slightly cool morning at the preschool swings in Santa Monica. Judah and I were doing the daily routine with the rest of his friends: Judah's dad pushes all his friends on the swings. I love it. I'm legendary in their minds. The boys see me and Judah enter through the gate, and they run toward the swings and wait for their turn for a "blast off". Which entails me pulling each of them in a swing back as high as I can, then pushing as hard as is considered safe. It usually sends them high enough to make them think they're going to be launched, but not really.

I'm pushing Judah and his friend Aris, and I've got them going in perfect alternating harmony. I push Aris with the left hand, and Judah on the right swings back in time for another push. As I'm doing this, the thought crosses my mind that my wedding ring is a little loose due to the shrinking of my flesh due to the cool weather, and I think I should probably take it off. But do I listen to this voice of reason? No.

It was getting close to the time when the kids need to get inside for school, and after one good push of Aris, I felt my ring fly off. I immediately stopped pushing the kids and said "nobody move". I did a quick scan of the area where it felt like it may have landed, but no dice. It's sand everywhere, and my ring is made of platinum, and rather heavy as far as rings go. So it could be mere centimeters below the surface of the sand, but out of sight.

I started digging around in the sand, and another dad came up and said "did you lose something?" I replied "my wedding ring". He didn't say anything, but he immediately started digging next to me because I'm pretty sure he knew the gravity of the situation. The school office manager came up and asked the same thing, and next thing you know there were three adults clawing around in the sand digging for treasure.

Luckily the kids had to go inside or it would have made the whole search a lot tougher. One by one the school staff came by asking "did you lose something?" to which I replied "my wedding ring" and they'd be speechless. After a while I started getting the next logical round of questions:

- "Did you see where it flew off?
- "Are you sure it's in the sand and it didn't fly off over there someplace?"
- "How did it fly off your finger?"

As much as one can expect, given the same line of questioning, my answers became more and more curt with every reply. I eventually had to call my work and tell them I lost my wedding ring in the sand at my kid's preschool, and I wouldn't be in until it was found. Luckily it was one of those days where I didn't need to be in first thing.

My digging dad compadre had to leave for work, and as he left he shot me a look that could only say "it was nice knowing you" or "you're a dead man walking" or something to that effect. And the staff person and I were left with those little plastic sand sifting toys that weren't going to do the trick. Finally someone came along and said "you know what might work? a metal detector!"

Because my ring is made of platinum, I wasn't even sure that would work, but the day was starting to get away from me. One of the teachers recommended I call a hardware store to see if I could rent one. I sat down in the teacher's lobby and started my online search on their iMac for nearby hardware stores. I called a few, and each one told me that they didn't rent metal detectors, nor did they know where to find one. I got so desperate that I even called Home Depot, but after the first round of getting shifted from department to department, I hung up.

I Googled "metal detector west los angeles" and found one place near UCLA that sold surveillance gear, so I called. The guy on the phone said that yes he had one, but he wasn't at the store currently. I looked at the clock, which read 10:15 or so, and he said "I might be able to get there around 11." I guess surveillance doesn't need to get going very early in the morning. He told me it would cost around 35 bucks to rent the metal detector for the day, plus deposit, but he wouldn't say what the deposit was. I didn't want to waste any more of my work day, so I decided to bail on the rental idea and just go ahead and buy a metal detector outright at Big 5 Sporting Goods.

to be continued...

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Double Nickels on the Dime

First a shout-out to Mr. Matthew Hegarty, who I met in AZ at Spring Training last week. He came over and asked if I was Lee Lee the Musical Bee, and said he reads the column regularly. I appreciate that, Mr. Hegarty, and it's nice to know that there are people I don't know out there tuning in each week. Makes it all worthwhile.

So on said Spring Training trip to AZ last weekend, we had a nearly unsurmountable task ahead of us: Driving the 400 miles or whatever from LA to Scottsdale to get there in time to see a baseball game. 400 miles. With kids. The online maps said it should take about 6.5 hours. I figured in the kids + my accelerated driving pace = 7.5.

We were making stellar time. We even stopped in the Palm Springs area for a bit of breakfast and to let the kids run around a bit. Driving about an hour out of Phoenix, it appeared that we'd prolly reach the stadium around 12:50. Just in time for the first pitch.

But no, that would be too perfect, now wouldn't it? I heard from the back seat "I have to go potty." Being in the western part of Arizona doesn't leave many restroom options, so I pulled off at the nearest exit to let the boy whiz on the side of the road. But no, that would be too quick and easy, now wouldn't it? He had to go #2. And that wasn't going to be possible on the side of the road.

We found some economy chain motel to stop at, and as I carried the boy in, the guy at the counter said "bathroom? to your left." I guess dad hurriedly carrying child is universal language for bathroom emergency. He took care of his business, and we also changed the baby girl's diaper. An efficient pitstop, but at that point I knew we were cutting it close.

I did what any man on a mission would do: I picked up the pace. Funny thing about AZ that they don't tell you in the visitor guide: There are "photo enforcement" stations all over the friggin' place. At least they have the courtesy to post warning signs before the cameras start snapping unwanted photos. Which is ridiculous, but I wish they'd do that for all speed traps. Like signs on the road saying "cops up ahead" would be great.

However if you miss the "photo enforcement" signs, then you're kinda busted the old fashioned way, without a courtesy notice to slow down. So I'm following this truck who's doing 75 in a 65, and I figure I'd do the same. I must have been distracted by some kid activities/nonsense in the back of the car, because I didn't see any sign but I did notice a couple of flashes go off next to some radar guns mounted on the side of the freeway. Great. I just hope it was for the truck and not me. Or if it was for me, I hope that my mug was obscured by the speeding truck.

At approximately 1:10 we drove up next to the stadium to find zero parking nearby. After driving around for what felt like an eternity, Lily was so kind as to take the wheel and use her parking karma to get us a spot nearby. In typical Angelino fashion, we walked through the ballpark turnstiles just in time for Inning 3. And there I met Mr. Hegarty, and was handed a cold beer by Mr. Alan Chimenti. Best Coors Light I've ever tasted.