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First Leg – Newark to Stockholm (Part 1)

It’s widely agreed that the most important foreign-language question for travelers is, “Where’s the nearest bathroom?” Having read of Delhi Belly and the Mumbai Trots, I want to be perfect in my annunciation of this need, and even more important, be able to understand the answer.

The intimate and explicit sign language gestures required in the absence of those phrases is likely to get one arrested if made in public. Of course, if the arraignment is swift, the place of confinement may offer relief.

As usual, I am three hours early for the flight. I’ve brought along some language CDs to practice Hindi in anticipation of using it in India. I’m sitting in the “Sam Adams Pub” out on the concourse, nursing an over-priced and watery coke. So, I booted up the fancy new Fujitsu Lifebook P7120 (cost
$2,000, plus memory upgrade, software programs, etc., well over $3,000.).

The computer’s default WiFi feature wants to connect to the local WifI network in the terminal but I promptly turned it off. It’s bad enough to be charged $2.50 for a 50 cent bottle of water and $9.95 for a $2.00 sandwich. Anyone who pays a hefty subscriber basic fee, plus 12 cents a minute, to log onto the Newark Airport WiFi is an idiot in English, Hindi, German, Spanish or any other language; just spelled and pronounced differently.

I popped in a tutorial CD, plugged in my headphones and took a run through a few common travel dialogs.

This tutorial is not off to a good start. The sound bite for the key question lacks the gastro-intestinal urgency that it should convey. Where is the panic you’ll feel when your pronunciation is so bad that the person you are speaking with thinks you are telling him his sister’s shoes are untied?

On my CD, that existential inquiry is stated in the calm, measured voice of an instructor who might as well be reciting the phone book. Where’s the thin, shaky voice that immediately precedes disaster? At that moment every single muscle in your body is held taut. The twitch of an elbow or turn of a foot might send a synaptic earthquake that liquifies your bowels, followed by a personal tsunami all over your shoes.

Unless this emotion is transmitted, the other person will almost surely respond with the most important question that is asked of every tourist . . . “where are you from?” . . . followed by information that he has two cousins and a nephew living in Saginaw, Michigan.

As I was mentally practicing my pronunciation, I realized I’m using battery power while there are electrical outlets, about 100 feet away, over by the boarding gate. I turned off the unit, gently closed the monitor cover, zipped up the laptop into its padded case and dragged my carry-on over near a wall outlet.

As I do, I’m wondering, how long will it be before a bean-counter working for airport management monetizes this un-metered electrical access? The French Revolution was sparked by an attempt to tax buildings by the square footage of sunlight that came in through glass windows, so I’m hoping something like that would be the response to meter-boxes over the electric outlets. Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite and Free Plug Ins!

But for now, until that day, let ’em have amps . . .

UPDATE NY Times, Nov 28, 2006 – a quote from the article “The Socket Seekers” page C10 – “Salt Lake City International Airport has installed new power outlets . . . for $3 a charge”

Don’t ‘cha love it when you can see it coming – and it does?

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