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24 July 2005

the charge on the shock system

exit: scandinavia. if i wasn't meeting sarah in prague, i think i'd have stayed in the far north far longer. hidden away, from. but i was very excited to see my girlfriend, and so south for me. back to the oslo bus station, i was a professional now. [although i think a professional would have successfully found the airport bus without asking for help. she looked at the gigantic sign right behind me to find the platform and time [hi, i'm the gigantic sign right behind you which gives you information so you don't have to bother the nice bus people]. like i said, professional.]

my flight was leaving at 1220 and i got to the airport at 0930. the man eyed me suspiciously. i didn't blame him; _i'd_ eye me suspiciously. checked in, plenty of time. through the security detail to the other side. wandered; ate; waited, too long [look at watch] damn. run to the gate on the opposite side of the airport, through customs, to my plane. instructions in norwegian.

for one reason or another, whenever fellow travelers related travel horror stories, the czech republic always came up. night train gassings, grossly inflated bills at bars and restaurants, corrupt police, pickpockets, scams, you name it. for this reason, while i was waiting in the oslo airport, i made a point of locking up my bags with padlocks and rearranging my pocket contents so that i knew where everything was; secure and protected, there would be no blind fumbling. i also installed one of the anti-pickpocket electric shock systems i'd constructed... anyone who attempted to pick _my_ pockets was going to get far more than a wad of cash. >> POW! << let them try it. [pinchers of peril! you guys, i've been saved by my pinchers of peril! : source]

arrival in the czech republic. picked up my pack; aimless wandering; through customs with zero questions; into the terminal. i looked around suspiciously and checked the charge on the shock system. full power. perfect. first mission: withdraw czech currency.

there were two atm's in the terminal... i stood against a wall, pulled down my shades and scoped them out, looking for any questionable individuals standing against walls scoping out the atm's for unsuspecting victims. er... wait. okay, none that i could see. alpha team: GO. i stealthed up to the first atm palming my atm card. as far as i could tell, the atm hadn't been outfitted with an external account number reading system; clean. proceed. i looked left, then right. then left again. then right again. i wanted to look left again, but decided i better proceed with typing in my personal identification number. access granted; i was in. four thousand czech crowns (koruna cesky): 4000kc. card ejected. two notes ejected. receipt ejected. i stealthed away and returned to the wall. mission accomplished.

fortunately, ronnie (from the sketchy oslo hostel) had filled me in on the transport details for getting into the city center: bus to the metro; metro to the center. i didn't think the bus driver would appreciate a 2000kc note. i needed change. one refreshing coca-cola would do. 65kc. okay, sure. i handed over a 2000kc note and she looked up, annoyed. i smiled; one refreshing coca-cola please. i quickly grabbed my changed and sat down at a nearby table to check out the czech currency. (1) 1000kc note; (1) 500kc note; (2) 200kc notes; (1) 10kc coin; (1) 5kc coin. wait a second. 1000 + 500 + 200 + 200 + 10 + 5 = 1915. wait just one second. 2000 - 65 = 1935. I'D BEEN SCAMMED! she shorted me 20kc! nooooo! i couldn't believe it. i contemplated walking back to the checkout counter to straighten out the situation and then decided against it. 20kc was about 80 cents. it had taken me a few minutes (and a scientific calculator and slide rule) to determine that i'd been shorted... i didn't want to start a 'no i didn't'/'yes you did' battle. i'll take this as a learning experience; count your change. i summoned up as much evil as i could spread across my face, locked on target, and fired a glare directly at her. direct hit; she knew; i knew; she knew i knew. i checked the charge on the shock system. still full power.

bus 119, just as ronnie had described. i found the bus stop. my destination: dejvicka. damn, i should have read the czech pronunciation guide before arrival. there's no way 'dejvicka' is pronounced 'dej - vic - ka' here. no way. i was going to have to guess. i decided to go with a silent 'j'. and that 'ck' sound needed some sparkle. i threw in a 'ch' sound. 'day - vitch - ka'. sure, that sounds czech. time to try it out. bus: on.

me: 'one for dayvitchka.'

bus driver: [czech: i got the dayvitchka part, but that's about it, tourista. [confused look]]

me: 'dayvitchka?' [index finger in the air indicating 'one']...[come on man, you're a bus driver, i'm a passenger. obviously i want a freaking ticket. hand it over.]

bus driver: jeden?

me: [YES: jeden.] yes. [head nodding]

bus driver: [czech: 25kc]

i had no idea what he had just said, but i handed over a 200kc note and he returned me some change. i validated the ticket in the little yellow box and took a seat. despite the earlier change shorting experience, i wasn't very concerned about the change (which was the correct 175kc, by the way)... i was beyond excitement: the bus driver had said 'jeden' and i had understood it; one of the few czech words i knew... taught to me by my czech-speaking grandmother! i was smiling as the bus drove away. i felt as one with my people. [digression] the motto of the united states of america: e pluribus unum. how cool is that? i think it is above level cool. out of many, one. so simply, so perfect. [end digression]

i was sitting on the right side of the bus and watching the bus stops intently. the bus was equipped with an led screen which showed the current and next stop; a prerecorded voice announced the same. dejvicka was the very last stop on the 119 line, so i wasn't concerned about missing the stop; mostly trying to learn the czech pronunciation. arrival: day - vits - ka. i'd been very close.

down into the depths of the metro system. alert. full power. i was fairly certain that my bus ticket would work for the metro as well, but i confirmed with an attendant regardless. the ticket was good for 90 minutes after validation. i'd made reservations at the old prague hostel and the hostel had provided directions: dejvicka -> mustek -> [switch lines] -> namesty republicky. done with no difficulty. i emerged from the depths.

gps. satellites acquired. i was on my way. fifteen minutes later, i was checked in and the pack was stowed. _great feeling_.

sarah would be arriving on tuesday and i didn't want to check out any of the city museums or galleries before she arrived. i set out on a new city walk up to the castle; uphill cobblestones (i imagined each stone being laid). i immediately liked prague; such an old and beautiful city. all of the sidewalks made up of very small stone cubes, gray and white, in varying patterns. across a powerful stone bridge, statues and spiders, crowded and flashing. after a long walk, i returned to the hostel.

many americans. i met chris and lindsay and the level 10 crew: a group of seven recent high school graduates from los angeles who were traveling across europe together. five of the seven were staying in the hostel; the other two had already had reservations in a hotel. level 10 had been traveling for three weeks and hadn't seen a single museum or art gallery, hadn't visited any castles or fortresses or towers or botanical gardens. they were in europe for one mission and they were conducting that mission on level 10 at every waking hour (which tended to be 1500 - 0500). i won't list the details of their adventures, but suffice it to say that they involve much nightlife and many beverages. i'll admit; this was a mindset that i didn't understand. to travel to a distant country and not visit places of cultural significance? why travel if only to see the inside of clubs and bars that look very similar to those back at home? but after talking with level 10 for a while, i felt things align in my head. travel is very personal; everyone experiences new places in their own way. if these guys wanted to party across europe, more power to them... at least they were traveling. they seemed to be having a blast and i was happy for them. we made plans to go out the next night; a level 10 night.

i disarmed the anti-pickpocket shock system before heading to bed, talking to chris and lindsay. lindsay's friend obviously had good dreams.

posted by paul on Sun 24 Jul 2005 at 00:00:00 est (-05:00)

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