Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Gorgonzola a Go Go

Gorgonzola a Go-Go: When Cheese Goes Terribly Wrong

WASHINGTON, DC (Jan. 26, 2010 2:59 a.m.) – I awoke about 12 minutes ago in a strange place, staring at a strange clock, and thirsty. I’m rather stressed as of late and waking up in a recently abandoned teen-age girl’s bedroom puts a confusing spin on matters.

So I opted to start writing. I figured Europe is six hours ahead of me so better off winding up the ol’ body clock a few day’s early.

In reflection on my state of affairs, however, today’s lesson has to be the Buddhist mantra of be here now. Americanized, that lesson is pay attention to what the fuck you’re doing.

My day started at my Lexington home before dawn where I logged on to my bank account to discover an unanticipated charge had wiped out our checking account, leaving me with a negative balance on the day I would start a whirlwind week that would bring me to Washington DC and then on to the Czech Republic.

What to do? Start by packing a lunch.

Deb and I knew things were tight. My “North Bend” debacle (see Facebook) had wiped out any hopes of Deb joining me in Europe. But this financial skid has proven tougher than expected. So we shopped for the week’s worth of groceries with precision and I packed food for my trip. My bag would include four apples, one can of mixed nuts (more on Brazil nuts later), two egg salad sandwiches (not advised), two packets of Ramen, and one leftover spinach salad featuring Gorgonzola cheese that I had made Friday morning.

But the banking revelation made things even more frantic. You see, between having a failed business and a horrible Bank of America mortgage (“Don’t worry, you’ll refinance in six months” all my friends in real estate said back in October of 2006, just about the time mortgage brokers were pouring lighter fluid all over their files before fleeing the country) and myriad family medical crises, we’re plain broke.

We’re coming back, steady and strong mind you, but with three voracious children there come these fantastic stressful pinions of poverty. And they are typically timed right when I am about to travel. Results include a freaking stressed out husband and father and a sleepless soon-to-be-left-home-broke wife and mother. We mutter about our bosses under our breath; smolder about our creditors; grumble about taxes; and then yell at our children.

And that’s when we step on dog shit in the front yard.
Fine image of domestic bliss, eh?

So I raided the wallet of my 8-year-old son for five dollars (that does wonders for a person’s self esteem, right there) pillaged the kitchen basket for a few more dollars, and then dumped over the change bottle for some quarters and dimes. I would boldly travel to DC – and perhaps onward to the Czech Republic - with a pile of change totaling $11.70.

My right coat pocket weighed about four pounds.

Transit Gods took pity on me this day. I walked to my bus stop in Lexington Center to find flush-cheeked commuters staring blankly to the North, waiting for the 76 bus. I see these humiliated individuals during my commutes to work. Trust me folks, bicycle commuting only looks hard in January. Waiting for a bus during a New England winter is truly impressive.

For me, however, there would be no wait. The bus arrived just as I stepped up. I hit my flight with no problem. And upon arriving at Baltimore-Washington International (to which flights are one third as expensive as Reagan or Dulles) I found the DC bus stop just as the thing pulled up!

I used some of my dimes here for the $3.10 fare bringing the weight of my right pocket down to a manageable two pounds.

At this point I foraged for food. Traveling with a single back pack had proven a disaster for my lunch. All those apples and egg salad sandwiches and containers and spinach and Gorgonzola had smashed about inside my Ortlieb Waterproof bag. When I unraveled the top of the bag, an odor hit my face like a dye pack hitting a bank robber.

“That has to be the Gorgonzola,” I thought… I quickly tried to roll up the top of the bag to contain the damage.

But this was like Union Carbide in Bhopal. The aroma spread through the bus like that black cloud going through Egypt in Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments. I half expected every first born on the bus to drop into convulsive fits; the stuff smelled that badly.

More than 20 years had passed since my last bus-cheese incident. In 1985 I crashed at about 50 mph on a descent during a race in Spain. Given some time off to let my mangled elbow heal, I traveled to France and the Netherlands. Returning to Spain by way of Paris, I opted to act in a very Frenchy manner and purchased a baguette and large wheel of Camembert. After about 14 hours of summer train travel, my half-eaten Camembert took on a lot of rustic charm. But anybody who knows me, and appreciates traveling without a lot of money, knows that I refuse to throw away food unless absolutely necessary. So on the final bus journey on the winding roads through the Basque Country, my bag slid loose in the overhead racks sending my warm Camembert cheese sailing forward three rows and down onto the freshly coiffed beehive hairdo of a middle-aged woman. Talk about an international incident: a jackass American dumps French Cheese on the head of a Basque woman, and then tries to apologize in bad Spanish. I actually hoped for an ETA bombing to go off on that bus at that moment. It probably would have smelled better.

We got to the fresh air of Greenbelt Station and all nine occupants gasped for the door like occupants of a long submerged bathyscaph. Greenbelt Station is situated curiously amid USDA research fields outside of DC. This reminded me of the book The Hot Zone, which describes a biological outbreak from a government lab located nearby that nearly wiped out civilization. I thought about dropping off my bag for the government agencies to check out.

Instead I entered the station with my bio hazard bag. There I used more of my change for the $2.35 ticket for ride to Farragut West station.

I emerged on the streets of Washington where moist, warm air greeted me. Keeping my bag sealed tight, I walked two blocks, bathed in a vibe of a city that had pulled off winter coats and hats and put out sidewalk tables and chairs for this event. Everybody bloomed like crocus for the day, knowing full well that we’d retract soon enough for the remainder of the winter.

After two blocks I found my way to the Special Olympics office, where on the 12th floor worked my colleague, Hilary Stephens. We pounded out about three hours of crazy work in preparation for the Capitol Hill Day event. I’m here to ensure my client, CSC, gets their money’s worth out of a lobbying effort on behalf of Special Olympics and Best Buddies.

We walked a few blocks in the dusk and then got on the Metro to complete the transfer to Hilary’s home near DuPont Circle. Upon entering the station, I had to ask “How much?” Inside of downtown DC the fares are $1.75 for just about every trip taken.

“Oh, just get like $5 on it; you’ll be using it,” said Hilary.

This is where pride derails everything. I did not have the spine to let Hilary know the $5 bill going into the machine was my last paper money. But I would need that fare to get back to Greenbelt on Wednesday morning. But as of that moment I lacked the $3.10 bus fare to get from Greenbelt to BWI.

We’re going to have to figure something out.

We arrived at Hilary’s home, a fantastic 1920s era house in the Woodley Park neighborhood. The whole place is filled with homes designed by an Armenian architect who survived the horrors of World War I, including service at Gallipoli.

Inside I encountered her husband, Ty, a bottle of Malbec, flank steak, and asparagus. After dinner Hilary took me for a walk in the neighborhood to show me the National Cathedral, a magnificent building that took the entire lives of stonemasons to construct. This is the same Cathedral Dan Brown writes of in The Lost Symbol. I returned at dawn to show you some pictures.

Only when we retired for the evening did I find myself in the room of Ty and Hilary’s recently graduated daughter, Mia. There I finally emptied the Ortlieb on the bed.

There I had recognized not one, but two plastic containers. This rattled my inventory of things.

In my busy ramp up for travel to the Czech Republic, I had studiously packed my big bag for that Grand Depart, but had given little heed to my little back pack being used for the DC prologue. Like an archaeological dump, I had hurriedly dumped computers and underwear and socks and books and this bag of food into the bag without bothering to check its contents.

In short, I had been so consumed with the big trip that I had neglected to pay attention to the little trip right in front of me. For at the bottom of that bag sat a rotting empty food container from Friday which had just enough biological matter to fester into an aromatic IED that had gone off in the bus.

Ahem….Be here now.

Thanks for reading. I’ll figure out the return trip and ensuing travels and report back.


  1. I don't know whether to laugh or cry...xo


  2. yowza, like I said on FB friends in other cities are there to assist!