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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Arrival part B

Ok so we’ve been in Finland for right around a month, which I believe, is the longest I have ever spent outside the United States. Except for those years when we lived in the Democratic Republic of California or the time we lived in Florida, well at least when we lived in the “Keys”.
This is for sure the most time I have spent in a foreign country. Except if you add up all the time I spent in Canada in my youth, but that would be silly because Canada is attached and therefore does not count as an actual foreign country. They don’t even speak a different language in Canada, well, except for the ones who speak French, but come on they’re Canadian French. Sorry, I mean “French Canadian” because to French people “French” must always come first or they will get very, very snooty with you. Well, in France they will get snooty with you. French Canadians will get outright indignant, even angry with you if they feel you have slighted their linguistic heritage. But come on, they’re French and Canadian how scary can they be? They’re main weapon is frozen French bread which at worst will get crumbs all over you. It cannot actually hurt you. That is, unless you try to actually eat the stuff. It is the hardest bread I have ever encountered. The hardest bread I have ever encountered before living in Finland.
A Finn doing what a Finn does; sitting outside drinking coffee
There are so many different kinds of bread here, most of which looks like the stuff that you see being torn off and eaten angrily by people in movies set in the Middle Ages. There is one type of dark bread here that is served with every meal, which is made from dough that comes from a root. These roots are centuries old and are passed down in families from one generation to the next. It’s like that fruitcake that one of your ancestors gave to another one of your ancestors that nobody has dared eat and thus has been getting re-gifted for centuries. Except people in Finland eat this bread. In fact, they love this bread. They love it so much in fact, that if you find a Finn living in the US you can bend them to your will by the mere suggestion that you may be able to get them some of this bread. If you had an unlimited supply of the stuff and enough Finnish ex-pats you could have your very own zombie army. They would be unstoppable. Provided, of course, that there were no bars or coffee shops along the way.
Ice. Below which is more ice, but it sure is pretty
Yes, the Finns do love to drink. It may be booze, beer, wine, cider or some unholy combination of them all, but not always. A lot of the time those cups in their frozen little hands holds nothing more than coffee. And it’s not just for breakfast anymore. Its also for those hours in between when a person wakes up and when they go to bed. Coffee here is like some sort of magical elixir.  Jittery? Have some coffee. Can’t sleep? Have some coffee. Sleep too much? Have some coffee. Hungry, tired, cold, thirsty. Awake. These are all good reasons for a Finn to have a cup of steaming hot coffee. In fact the Finns drink more coffee than anyone else on the planet. In Finland pregnant women are encouraged to try and limit their coffee intake to only 18 gallons a day.
Military service is mandatory in Finland for citizens 18 to 20-something years old. The Finns maintain an armed fighting force just in case someone threatens their coffee supply.
These people are sitting in the middle of a frozen bay. Fishing.
Which begs the question; are the fish that good or are the
wives that mean?
The love of and need for piping hot coffee in Finland is easily understood when you consider that, well, its really, really cold here in the winter and the winter lasts a really, really long time. It is March 30th today and it snowed last night. A measurable amount. Except nobody measures the snowfall because they just don’t care anymore.
Yours truly walking on water.
There has been so much snow here this winter that people have not only forgotten what the ground looks like, they have forgotten what their feet look like. Do you remember that storm this past winter that shut down the east coast of the United States? They called it “Snowmageddon” or something like that. In Finland, a storm like that is called Tuesday. The Helsinki airport has only been closed one time in its history. For only twenty minutes and probably only because the plow truck drivers ran out of coffee and had to make more. Children here do not get off of school for snow. The city does not grind to a halt when they get an inch on the ground. Or a foot. Or Godzilla sized snowdrifts capable of swallowing city buses whole. When a father tells his kids, “when I was your age I had to tunnel through the snow up hill in both directions to get to school” the kids just respond with “yeah? So did we. Yesterday”.
These people are tough (though it is rumored that if the temperature gets above 80·F they could spontaneously combust).
(bet you thought I was gonna say, "baby")
As weird as it may sound, though, I actually really like this weather. Cold and snowy in Finland, I don’t know, just seem right somehow. It makes sense. It brings out the inner survivor. The air is clean and crisp and lets you know you’re alive. The snow crunches underfoot satisfyingly and the ice keeps you balanced and on your toes. Every blast of arctic wind is like a challenge and the sunshine is like a warm embrace. Sure it’s cold, but this is Finland, dammit!
Which is why tomorrow morning Mixo and I will be on a plane winging our way to southern Spain. We will be shedding our layers and peeling off the long johns and heading to Madrid where we will pick up a rental car and drive down to Jerez for the second round of this season’s MotoGP circus.
As the first European stop Jerez is one of the most well attended GP’s on the calendar and the Spanish fans are notoriously rabid about motorsport. And Klaus und Hammer will be there to experience all the action and share it with you thanks to our hard earned clout within and importance to the international motorcycle racing community.  Actually, we are fortunate enough to have been around this sport for long enough that we have come to know and be friends with some really good people who through their hard work and dedication were able to help us out. I would like to issue a public thanks, but am contractually obligated to not hurt their reputation by association. Regardless, I would like to say from the bottom of my heart and with all truth and seriousness, “I sure hope we don’t fuck this up”.
Thanks for reading and we’ll see you next time.


Thursday, March 17, 2011

Arrival part I

What is in a name? Is a person’s success or failure attributable to the name of that person? What about certain products? The easy answer is, as always, “no, now leave me alone”, but think about it for a minute. Would Brad Pitt still be Brad Pitt if he had been named Melvin Van Dinkleboffer? Sure, he would still be the same guy, have all the talent, good looks, and general awesomeness, but somehow I don’t see Angelina Jolie running her fingers through some guy named Van Dinkleboffer’s hair or whispering lustily into the ear of a Melvin.
Then there is Engelbert Humperdink (or something). You have heard of this guy, right? You probably do not have any idea why (he’s a singer I think) nor could you name any of his songs and you probably couldn’t pick him out of a lineup. Yet, you know his name. A name, by the way, that he invented. Yes, friends, someone actually changed their name TO Engelbert Humperdink (or something). Why, why would someone do that? Well if he was named John Smith and you still had no idea that he was a singer nor name any of his songs he would just be another shmo, named John Smith. The name Engelbert Humperdink (or something) makes him a celebrity (sort of).
A name can make an ordinary thing seem exotic too. Nobody would ever go into a fancy restaurant, see “shelled slugs” on the menu and think, “mmmm, that sounds good”. But call that same plate of disgusting, slimy, horribleness “escargot” and they are magically transformed from a common pest that you kill on the sidewalk with salt into a delicacy that people pay good money to eat. I also, heard that Toyota almost named a car “One which pulls the wool over well-intentioned tree hugger eyes so we can sell it for a premium even though it may one day speed out of control and crash while also depositing huge lead-acid batteries that are a hazmat and will never decompose into landfills every where, ha ha” but went with “Prius” instead.
Clearly, labels matter.   
In Finland, or more accurately Europe, or more accurate still; the entire world outside of the United States, things are labeled differently. For example, a mile here is a bit shorter and called a “kilometer”. A “kilometer” is made up of 1000 “meters” which is made up of 100 “centimeters” and that is broken down into 10 “millimeters”. I only hope that the randomness of it all makes sense to me one day.
Weight is also different. In Europe a “pound” is what they use for money in the UK so the bathroom scale here it tells me how many “kilos” I weigh. A kilo, incidentally, is less than a pound so I have hatched a sure fire, can’t miss, money making scheme; the world’s greatest weight loss plan EVER (to be sold in the US only). It requires no change in diet, no exercise, and best of all no lifestyle modifications whatsoever. You can now eat all the fatty food you want, sit on the couch forever and still “lose” weight. Simply switch your bathroom scale for one of our amazing “weight-loss” models. This amazing product combines modern European technology with real old world craftsmanship (made in China). These amazing scales will instantly show you a dramatically smaller number when you weigh yourself and best of all it will be completely accurate! I personally went from a sagging and portly 150 pounds to a lean and mean 74 kilos just by moving to Europe, eating lots of pastry, and using one of these amazing scales. Send your money today and I will ship them tomorrow or as soon as I can pop down to Ikea and get them. 
Also, hopping on the crazy measurement bandwagon is temperature which here is expressed in terms of something called a Celsius. Apparently there is a scale of temperature measurement where 0 is the point at which water freezes and 100 is the point at which it boils. Instead of the more obvious and common sense based scale in the US where water freezes at 32 degrees because, erm, because, well it’s obvious why and needs no explanation. Just as obviously, water boils at, um, well it boils at, oh wait I know this one, uh, it boils at 454. No, that’s when paper catches on fire. I know that because there is a book, which I did not read, with something about that in the title. So if water freezes at 32 and paper burns at 454, again for obvious reasons, then water must boil at, uh, oh heck with it, lets just go with 212 degrees because the whole thing seems to be random anyway. Whatever! Who needs an easy to figure out and remember system of measurement based on units of ten? Nobody needs to remember or figure anything out anymore. We’ve got the google for that.
The point is that in Finland temperature is measured in these, so called, Celsius (is it celsiuses or celsii?). Currently in Finland we have negative Celsius. As in below zero, as in it’s so cold we have completely run out of degrees and are currently running a deficit. It has been this way for so long that the locals don’t even say the “minus” when discussing the temperature anymore. It’s assumed. Instead they say things like, “it’s supposed to get all the way up to zero next week” with a cheerful smile, or what passes for a cheerful smile in Finland which is not, as it happens, very cheerful or smile-like. This is not because Finns are unhappy it is because if they smile their teeth will freeze.
The way in things are measured is not the only thing that is different here. When I got on the airplane in Los Angeles I was a person of average height, heck, around the old “barrio” I was even considered tall.  So it seems odd that as soon as I stepped of the plane I was instantly rather short. Well, not compared to the average five year old, but it did seem that no matter where I stood it happened to be several inches lower than everywhere else as if I was always standing in a hole. This became glaringly obvious when visiting a public men’s room (which is called a WC) for the first time. The urinals had been mounted so that the bowl was at around mid-chest making it, quite literally, an uphill battle to pee. I thought for sure it was all in my head until upon my exiting the WC I found Mixo laughing, “holy cow, I feel short”. It was not an illusion, it was true, we were now short. So we scampered off and tried very hard not to get stepped on.
We have been living in Finland for a couple weeks now and the time has mostly been filled with the usual tedium associated with moving to a new place; bank, cable, internet, cell provider, finding a decent happy hour, you know, the necessities of modern living. We have explored our new surroundings and started to settle in. 
So far I really like it here. Sure, its cold outside, but that’s easy to deal with; don’t go outside. Truth be told, I have not been cold yet even though we don’t have a car and have been getting around the city on foot. That’s because the Finns have developed an ingenious way to keep warm; they walk really, really fast. I mean, like, super fast and not just the young business types who are always in a hurry. Fancy women in high-heeled boots, little old ladies with canes, small children, a drunk guy with a severe limp, they all passed us on the sidewalks like Rossi passing a trackday hero, like Schumacher passing a French guy on a bicycle, like me passing gas (easily and often). Bear in mind, also, that the sidewalks are covered in a thick layer of ice with only some gravel spread around for traction. Clearly we were going to have to step up our game if only to keep from getting run over by a group of marauding 1st graders on a field trip. Mixo had no trouble tapping into her Scandinavian blood and picking up the pace, but I have a long, proud, history of ambling along. Still, I made the adjustment and soon found that in a very short distance I was quite warm. So warm in fact that entering any shop, store, or cafĂ© in which the heat was on (all of them) resulted in my long johns spontaneously combusting.
There also exists in Finland a fantastic (if a tad expensive) public transit system, which I have dubbed “the skinny train” because it looks like, um, a skinny train. The real name for it is Raitiovaunu, which is pronounced “skinny train”.
The cats (remember them) survived the flight and have now made what must have been a very difficult and traumatic transition from sleeping on the couch in LA to sleeping on the couch in Finland. They have come through the ordeal with typical cat stoicism; by complaining loudly and shoving things off the table before licking themselves and falling asleep. Very heroic.
We are now looking forward to our car arriving as it was wisely packed with all manner of necessities for life in Finland; shorts, Hawaiian shirts, and I kid you not, flip-flops. Look it was a very stressful time when we were packing and we may not have made the best decisions, ok. Fortunately, the following shipment has our snowboarding clothes and my hockey gear. Unfortunately, it won’t get here until May.
Up next, in two weeks, will be our long awaited trip to Jerez, Spain for the second race of this year’s MotoGP, but this weekend will be spent on the couch watching the opening round from Qatar. We will be able to see practice and qualifying for all three classes as well as all the racing action. This is exciting to me because in the US there is only one channel that shows motorcycle racing and they only show the Moto GP race. No qualifying, no practice, no 125’s and sometimes no Moto2. To put that in terms most people can understand it would be like your favorite team being in the Super Bowl and it not being televised. The only way to see the game would be to buy a ticket and go to the game. And the game was in another country. That would suck, right? Welcome the world of the American fan of motorcycle road racing.
On that note I would like to congratulate Jason DiSalvo and his ridiculously hard working team for their victory last week in the Daytona 200. I would also like to point out because its my blog and I’ll do what I want with it that before Mr. DiSalvo was a top-level professional motorcycle racer he got lapped by yours truly in a solo 20 race at Summit Point. Twice.  
Pictures and with any luck video to follow. Thanks for playing along and see you next time.


Friday, March 4, 2011

Exodus part I

Every story has a beginning a middle and and end. If the story is a play (which, for my readers under 30, is a movie performed live, on a stage, with actors) then the script will usually have three parts also known as acts. Act I, Act II, Act III. As an audience member the separation between acts is fairly obvious. For example there may be a black-out or an intermission. In some cases there will be other clues such as the play stops and everyone claps and goes to the bathroom. In any case, an act usually ends after some big event or something really important to the story happens.
Real life is also broken up into separate acts and though we know how the first one starts and the last one ends, the number of acts in anyone's particular story can vary wildly. More importantly, there is often no clear delineation between the acts. I mean, when does childhood end and adulthood begin? One year you're dressed up for halloween and trick-or treating, the next you're too old. How the hell did that happen? What, all of a sudden you don't like free candy? Who doesn't like free candy? I would take a bag of free candy from a stranger right now! Unfortunately, if I showed up at a strangers' house at night wearing a mask and demanding stuff now it would be a felony.
There are times in life when what seems like the end of one part is actually the beginning of another. Like so many things in life, it's simply a matter of perspective. You've no doubt heard the expression "when God closes a door he opens a window" right? Or the old chestnut "when life hands you lemons, make lemonade". Good expressions, both, but not everyone likes climbing out windows and some people think lemonade tastes like battery acid so when life's tedious monotony grinds you down, or when things don't go the way they should, or for whatever reason, you need to make a change or gain a new perspective there is another very old saying that I just made up; "hey, let's just move to Finland".
Feel free to use it anytime.
Yes, Finland. No, not Newfoundland, Canada or Finslin County, SD. I mean actually, Finland, it's a whole other country with its own language and flag and everything. It's situated right up there next to Buyafreakingglobeistan and is the birthplace of, among other things, Nokia, the sauna, several motor sport world champions, and really really dark bread. Oh, and Mixo.
The decision to leave Los Angeles, a place we love living, and move to Finland was remarkably easy. Probably because when the decision was made it was only theoretical. As the date of departure got closer and the move became more of a reality things became decidedly more stressful.
Not only were we moving which, for most people, is a major pain in the patootie, but we were moving to a different country, selling, storing, or packing everything we own, AND selling our house. Oh, and we have three cats. Any one of these things taken individually is worth several grey hairs, but taken simultaneously they're good for a massive breakdown or three.
It is at a times like these that you find out who your friends are and, fortunately, we have some very good ones. Unfortunately, I owe a lot of people in LA drinks and will be mowing at least one lawn upon our return. You may also find out that your significant other is a pack-rat just shy of having her own hoarding reality show. No really, one of us has a problem because have way way too much crap. As we were packing our massive storage unit to the brim with our lives' detritus I kept imagining what it will be like to unpack all that stuff and how many times the phrase, "why the @#!$% did we keep this?" will be uttered. My guess; a lot.
As for selling the house goes all I can say is that the only thing which is a bigger pain in the ass than selling a house is buying one. This is mostly due to an entire industry of people who have made the process so complicated that they then need to be hired so they can explain it and thus have a job. What if every transaction was so convoluted? Going to the grocery store would require a mountain of paperwork, six weeks of negotiations, and a team of lawyers just to buy a steak that you'd probably overcook anyway. Buying and selling a house should be just like buying and selling a used car; find one you like, make a deal, give cash for title, and be done with it. If there was a craigslist for home buying then real estate agents would be the Nigerians. Ok?  
It is amazing how time gets compressed. What once was several months until we were to leave LA quickly whittled down to only minutes. At the end we had none to spare barely getting everything done before heading off to LAX.
At the airport we checked in with the Helga (a standard term for German women, look it up) at the ticket counter who, though nice, was not convinced that she should upgrade our tickets to first class for free. She was also not convinced that our extra luggage was a set of very short skis (you are allowed one checked bag and one ski bag at no cost. Which makes sense because people who fly from Los Angeles to Munich often need to bring their skis. Duh!). We then sent the crate full of three howling cats off to be loaded. By the way, did you know that the sound a really unhappy cat makes is remarkably similar to that of a screaming child? It's true. So if that sound is ever coming out of a crate that you happen to be pushing around an international airport and people are staring try this little tip; yell into the crate "look I'm sorry, but do you know how much white babies go for these days? I'm sure you're new parents will love you just as much." Then look at the interlopers, laugh and tell them, "probably a lot more actually".
Works every time. Ok seriously, don't do that. But it was really funny.
Then, despite being at the airport the requisite three hours ahead of time we almost missed our flight thanks to the usual grope and grab in security becoming a TSA drill in which everything inexplicably stops for ten minutes. We were not the last ones to get on the plane, however, that honor went to some pregnant woman with a child, a stroller, a carry-on bag, a neck pillow, and a small dog in tow.
So finally, after months of talking about it, weeks of planning, a few more weeks of procrastinating, reams of papers, hundreds of phone calls, the logistics, the fretting, the worrying, the gigantic stress of it all was about to pay off. We were settled into our seats (in coach thanks a lot Helga) and leaving Los Angeles.
The end of one part, the beginning of another. I can't wait to see how this story turns out.........

Up next; What's a celsius and why don't we have any?