Wednesday, August 02, 2006

La Revedere, Bucharest!

Day Fourteen: July 31, 2006
Departure Day

ADDENDUM: I neglected to follow up on the pencil sharpener search. It came to no real surprise to me that super AD Benita Allen had one in her bag. She even offered to let me borrow it for the duration of the shoot. I used it and gave it back to her because I don’t want the responsibility of holding on to the only pencil sharpener in Romania.

Did last night really happen? Was I really awake just a couple of hours ago? This will come back to kick my ass at some point later in the day. But for now, I need to pack. Fortunately, I had some laundry done at the hotel and for those of you who have done the same thing; you know that your stuff comes back folded in a way that no human could fold it. And slid nicely into plastic bags. So this helps in the packing process. And I didn’t have a lot of time to buy stuff so I don’t have as much cramming to do.

I went downstairs to have breakfast. I really didn’t want to eat alone (I hate eating alone) but I really doubted anyone else was going to be awake, especially since the call time for today is 1 pm. I’m the only one leaving today. So I sit down by myself and bring my laptop so I can at least look busy. I never know what to do when I’m at a table by myself. It’s like when you stand up and don’t know what to do with your hands. Do I cross my arms? Put my hands in my pockets? So I have the laptop and a breakfast buffet. And…pancakes!! Loyal readers remember my difficulties getting pancakes at the buffet so there you go. But now that I’m by myself, I feel awkward going up more than once. It’s okay in a group because no one notices the individuals. But all alone, I feel like people are noticing how much I’m eating.

I must remember to call my therapist.

Adding to my awkwardness, Tom and Tim (the famous Australian DP who looks eerily like Tim Mellors, Grey’s executive CD) have showed up. They said hello and Tom said something smarmy but I forgot what it was. Then they sat somewhere else but close enough that I couldn’t relax anymore, even with the harpist playing some Mozart music, which is used in a Baby Einstein VHS that Aaron used to have. So now I have those creepy images on toys moving by themselves stuck in my head.

With breakfast behind me, it’s time for my traditional walking aimlessly through the city. I really haven’t had the opportunity to check out Bucharest and I have some time before I need to leave for the airport. And since I’m on my own, I have no one to thwart my indecisiveness. So I wander through the hotel shops, looking for some crap I can buy. But this stuff is way too expensive. So I hit the streets and find…nothing. The liquor store is closed on Mondays. The place that looked like a hi tech game store was actually a small gambling salon. I even wandered into a supermarket, which was laid out remarkably like the Associated on 2nd Avenue and 48th Street. I wonder if supermarkets have sister stores in other countries. Anyway, I still haven’t purchased anything because I keep thinking I’ll find something better in the next place I go. This decision will come back to bite me in the ass later on.

Running low on time, I head back to the hotel to finish packing. I look one more time for my headphones and my contact lenses. No luck on either front. By the way, if any of you out there are heading for Toronto any time soon, please let me know. I’d love to get another set of those headphones. They were perfect and cheap and now they’re gone. I check out and my driver is waiting for me with yet another bizarre interpretation of my name. But this time, Liebowitz is spelled correctly. I guess that’s one of the benefits of being in Eastern Europe. But my first name was spelled “Michke.” Close enough,

So here’s the weird thing: this guy is dressed like he’s some hot property. Italian shoes with no socks. Light colored, lightweight pants. A blazer over a silk shirt. He’s right off of the cover of GQ if that GQ issue was from 1987. And he’s driving a Mercedes, but it’s a really crappy one. So I get in the car and as we’re leaving the hotel, the driver asks me, “Are you going to Tel Aviv?” What the hell? Do look that Jewish? Is it that scene from Annie Hall again where, to this guy, I look like and Orthodox rabbi? Wagner, Max. Wagner. I’m surprised he didn’t ask, “Jew going to Tel Aviv?” Not “are you going” but “Jew.” After some silence, he asks me what me name is. Odd, considering he was just holding a sign with my name on it, albeit spelled wrong. So I tell him and then there’s more silence. See, that question is usually followed by “oh, my name is…” So I ask him what his name is. Dolph. Figures, right? So I say, “nice to meet you, Dolph.” To which he responds, “Dolph Lundgren.” So I make a joke about wondering where he’s been since Rocky IV. I’m more amazed that he chose to reference a D-level action actor from the 80s. I guess he could have said Dolph Sweet from “Gimme a Break” which would have been funnier, but creepier.

Now Dolph is angling for a tip. I had every intention of tipping the guy but maybe he thinks I won’t tip or I’ll leave a crappy tip. The car is already paid for and I have some lei ready to give him. But first he tells me how little the average Romanian makes. It’s barely enough to get by. According to Dolph, he makes $200 a month. Then he tells me he makes $10 a day. Besides the fact that the math doesn’t add up, a guy dressing like him doesn’t make $200 a month. Unless he’s forced to wear these 80s castoffs because he makes $200 a month. Anyway, as if on cue, his phone rings. After he hangs up, he tells me it was his wife with new about his mom. Is she okay? I ask stupidly. Oh, she’s in the hospital. And so much money goes to the doctors taking care of him. Fine! Here’s your tip. Now go away!

90 minutes until departure. Time to blow all my lei. I start to look for something to eat and pass a vending machine that sells beer. Beer from a vending machine!!! Now that’s progress! As I follow the signs for food, I pass the arrivals and departures monitors. I notice that all the flights leave within 20 minutes of each other. That explains why the airport was so empty when we landed. They seem to have an afternoon rush and an evening rush. Going through security is going to be a bitch.

If I know it’s going to be a bitch, why have I waited for the last possible moment to try to go through? I have a leisurely lunch: Pizza Quattro Formaggio (and one of the cheeses is Bleu. Yuck.) and some water (with gas! Big gas!!!). I don’t board until 2 so what’s the rush? This is so unlike me. I’m usually the guy who sits around by the gate when I have hours to spare.

Meanwhile, I hear various PA announcements in various versions of English. Except the guy announcing an American Airlines flight to Italy sounds like Lily Tomlin’s Ernestine character. A male version. Weird. And the tones that precede these announcements? The familiar 5 tones from “Close Encounters.” That pretty much sums up the whole experience.

So I casually pay the check and stroll down to the security area. And there’s a mob scene. It’s a zoo. And it’s worse past the customs officials. It’s like when you sit in traffic at the George Washington Bridge. There are 15 lanes of cars which all have to merge into 4 lanes of traffic. It’s 2:05 and I have a 2:35 flight. Is there anything quite as exhilarating as the refreshing blast of adrenaline that comes with the realization that you may miss a flight? I’m really starting to sweat. It’s dripping off of me and I’m trying hard to look relaxed so I don’t get singled out on the security line. But I’m running out of time. And instead of asking someone if I can skip through the line, I stand there like some moist idiot who would rather miss a flight than cause a scene. I finally see a passenger run through with an airline employee. So I follow and latch on to whatever’s going on here. This passenger is on my flight. Okay, we get through security and as we run through the terminal, I see all of these shops where I should have been doing that last minute shopping I wanted to do. It’s not like I’ve never been to an airport before. I think I had this preconceived notion that there was nothing to do in this airport so I stayed by the food for too long.

Well, I make the flight. I have my business class seat and…what’s this? Oh come on, another delayed departure? This time it’s because they can’t get the luggage compartment closed. They have to call some Ionescu or another with a screwdriver. And we wait. And wait. And I’m starting to wonder about my connection in Frankfurt. Come on, I need to buy stuff!!! I have cash! Don’t take a check!

It’s 4:15 Germany time and making this connection is in serious doubt. However, we’re in a holding pattern over the airport due to weather and this is affecting all aircraft. So maybe. But now they announce that busses will be taking us to the terminals. And there are special busses for New York and Chicago. But I’m going to Newark. So I work up the nerve to ask a flight attendant to clear this up for me. I say “Newark.” She says “yes, New York.” Great.

So I fish around for my ticket. I’m not leaving at 4:30 like I thought. I’m leaving at 5:15. So there’s time to buy some last-minute stuff. Isn’t there? Well, we have to land. The bus has to load and drive us over to the terminal. I dodge the throngs of people to run up a flight of escalator stairs only to be met at the top of the escalator by two security guards waving their arms and speaking German (what did I expect? I’m in Germany). After resisting the urge to crap myself, I turn back to see if any of the other passengers are behind me. The eventually catch up and I’m able to slide through security. Time to shop? No, I need to find my gate. But to get to my gate, I have to take a shuttle to another terminal. And when I finally get there, the plane is boarding. I do a quick scan of the shops in the area and have no interest in surplus World Cup merchandise. So I board. And guess what? We’re delayed! G-d hates me.

I will say one thing for the bathroom on this plane: it has a window. I won’t go into the details of the image in my mind right now but picture it for yourself. Breathtaking.

I just turned off my phone because the flight attendant announced that we had to. And you know what? It was easy. I pushed a button and the phone shut off. So why is it so hard for others to do the same? They know they’re doing something wrong because their hunched into themselves, whispering as if they’re hiding from the Gestapo which, given our current location, may be true. Hey Heinz! Turn off the phone!

Welcome to Newark. So long Romania. So long Germany. Hello American immigration. It’s been a long 2 weeks. So what have we learned?

• Just because the calendar says it’s 2006, it doesn’t mean it’s true all over the world. There are parts of the world where it’s still 1990 or even earlier.
• You’re never as funny as you think you are.
• Alcohol is the great equalizer.
• Everything is funny when you’re tired.
• Romania is a great place to shoot. Just not yet. Maybe in 5 years or so.
• You truly don’t know what you have until it’s gone. I hate Starbucks but I could really go for a frappucino right now.
• A country that has so much meat makes a lousy hamburger.
• The nationalistic pride, which filled Europe in the early 20th century and led to World War I is non-existent in Romania. Communism fell 16 years ago and the country doesn’t know what to do with themselves.
• Capitalism is addicting. The hypermarkets here are very popular.

If you’re thinking of moving here, there are some things you shouldn’t bother opening:
1) A brassiere store. You won’t sell a thing.
2) A Judaica shop. When I left, the Jewish population plummeted.
3) A Cadillac dealership. Cars over 4 feet in length are rare in these parts.
4) A Smokenders' Franchise. They’re not interested.
5) A Fair Tourism Center. They don’t look at us as people willing to contribute to their economy. They look at as like fresh meat.
6) A place that sells maps to the stars’ homes.
7) A center for safe driving. If these people actually paid attention to what they were doing, accidents would increase. Somehow, being oblivious works for them.
8) An Alternative Uniform store. In Romania, there are the blue coveralls and the green coveralls.
9) An unsharpened pencil store. Unless you plan on selling pencil sharpeners as well, you’re going to piss off a lot of former communists who just want to do the daily Jumble or something.

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