Theft, TSA and Blind Faith

On Saturday, January 5, 2013, our family checked in at the airport for our United Airlines flight 194 to Maui. We dutifully weighed our bags to make sure they weren't too heavy and passed them over to the airline, never wondering about the safety of the contents. Later that evening, Pamela was unpacking her suitcase in our hotel room when she discovered that her MacBook Air was missing. The power cord was there, but no computer. There was a nice little tag notifying us that our luggage had been searched by TSA Agent #5414 in San Francisco. Well, according to Pamela, Agent #5414 had stolen her MacBook Air, but had left the power cable behind in the suitcase.

Secretly, the kids and I were pretty convinced that we were going to find the MacBook waiting for us on our bed at home where the suitcase was packed. But Pamela was firm so I went online to find out how to report a theft by TSA. There is a nice helpful phone number, but a call to that number just asks you to leave a message. She dutifully left a detailed message including all of the information about flight, Agent #5414 and what was stolen. Online, there was a form that you have to fill out to file a claim with TSA. After reading it over, we realized that it wasn't simple and certainly not something we could do while on vacation since you need original receipts and other "documentation". We abandoned this particular task and decided to handle all of this when we got home.

Before we dropped the subject entirely, I remembered that when I set the computer up, I linked its "Find My Mac" to my Apple ID. So, using my iPhone, I tried to locate the machine which, of course, was "off line." Not to be deterred, I went ahead and asked apple to notify me if the machine was located and to send it a "lock" code if it does. I stopped short of sending the computer a "Wipe" command because, after all, it probably never *really* made it into the suitcase.

It is a bit jarring when you realize that something has been stolen from you. There were a few thoughts that ran through my mind. The first was disbelief; surely the machine is just sitting at home waiting for us to return. The second was amazement that there are people in the world who steal. Not just anyone but a TSA agent who, theoretically, is being monitored by video surveillance and has to actually walk out of their place of work with something out of a traveller's suitcase. On top of that, this agent had to put a little slip in the suitcase telling us that Agent #5414 did the deed.

On closer inspection, the tag that notified us of the inspection had the agent number written in by hand. I know that thieves aren't smart, but it doesn't take a rocket scientist to maybe just write in some other random number on the tags that you place in suitcases you steal from. If this truly is their system than maybe I need to rethink my ideas that TSA has any anti-theft processes in place. Maybe there is NO video surveillance and maybe there is no check when they leave work to make sure they aren't carrying valuables home.

We kept the tag, our boarding passes and went on about our vacation. When we returned home a week later the first place I went was upstairs to check on the bed. Neatly made, and empty.  Now we knew for sure; TSA stolen Pamela's MacBook.


The Infamous TSA Inspection Slip

The Infamous TSA Inspection Slip

And, we weren't alone. If you want some interesting reading, do a quick google search. In fact, so many people do this search, that here is what google shows you when you type "tsa th"...



If you've been reading my blog, you will know that at the end of January, I went to the Giants Fantasy Camp in Scottsdale, AZ. One evening I was diligently writing a blog post when two emails came in. The first told me that Pamela's MacBook Air had been found. The second told me that it had been successfully "locked". The first message had a neat little Map showing a house in a dense neighborhood in Milpitas with a blue dot indicating the MacBook's location. Now we really know that it was stolen and that it was still within a day's walk of San Francisco Airport. And we know where the thief lives, or do we?

Apple laptops and desktop machines don't have GPS chips. How they figure out where they are in the world is a bit of a mystery. Apple tells you that it uses known WiFi access points and other information to approximate the location of the machine. Lest you think that this can't be very accurate, you are wrong. It is eerie and if you want to read about it, check out Skyhook's How it Works page.

It is amazing how little law enforcement agencies care about petty theft. At work we have had numerous occasions to try to get police involved in situations only to be thwarted at every turn. First, there is the jurisdictional problem. The theft occurred at San Francisco Airport. The loss wasn't discovered until we were in Hawaii. And, the party that "suffered the loss" (us) is located in a town 90 miles north. Finally, the machine is in yet another city. Trust me, whoever you call will tell you that you need to call someone else.

We experienced this at work when somebody took one of our checks and used them to make their personal checks with our account and routing numbers on it.  So, basically, they would write a check, but when it got to the bank and the machine read those funny little numbers on the bottom of the check, it would take money out of our corporate bank account.    Simple, effective and almost impossible to stop (don't try this at home.)

The first one of these that came through was for an online porn site.    In hindsight, I think that the thieves were just testing the account number before actually forging their new checks.  Nothing we could do about that but cancel our new subscription.  Then came a charge at an Emeryville Walmart.  We found it as soon as the check cleared, and a call to the bank quickly reversed the charge. 

This happened a few times so we decided to call the police.  From the checks that had cleared, we had an address in Emeryville, so we called the Emeryville Police Department.  They told us to call our local police department because the loss was suffered in their jurisdiction.  So, I sat with an officer and went over all the fraudulent charges.  Then he asked if we were out any money.  Of course the bank reversed all the charges so we were fine.  That means the party who suffered the "loss" wasn't in their jurisdiction either.    He told me we had to report it to the individual stores were the checks were passed.  They were spread around in different cities and we gave up. 

This is a complete failure of our law enforcement system.  Petty crime to be sure, but still crime.

This time instead of calling the police, our intrepid IT Manager, Scott,  got the call.  I had kept him in the loop about all of this and he was convinced that we could get the machine back. I only had one condition.  Whatever we did has to be anonymous. I didn't want to send a self-addressed stamped envelope to the house saying "You are a thief!" So, he devised this convoluted solution that involved using the local UPS store, a helpful staff, and a lot of luck.

One morning, I went with him to the UPS store with a box. Inside the box was packing material, including strapping tape to reseal the box, and a note. The note basically said "You have our laptop. Put it back in the box and return it to a UPS store and we won't call the police." He also created a throwaway gmail address so the thief could contact him anonymously.

I humored him through this process. First, I didn't believe for a minute that the MacBook Air's location was good enough to pin point an exact street address in a neighborhood. Second, I didn't think that any self-respecting thief would actually follow our instructions. I was wrong on both counts. Kinda.

We anxiously tracked the package's arrival the next day. A few hours later, Scott received the following email:

  To whom it may concern:

I bought a Macbook air on craigslist. When I met the guy he told me he had suddenly lost the charger and so he'd drop the price from $750 to $650. He told me there wasn't a password, so after inspecting it including turning it on, etc. It looks like a 2012 model and according to the seller he bought it only couple of months old. It looked legit at the time. By looking at the mac book it looks pretty new. I gave him the cash and went home. When I got home I tried to create a new account, suddenly it was a password in the system preference it was locked.  I tried contacting the seller and he hasn't responded. I tried calling him back but the number is disconnected. I had no idea it was a stolen until I received your letter. So I am returning laptop. Hopefully you will be able to return it to the owner.

The next day we picked the MacBook Air up from the local UPS Store. It was in perfect shape and, after unlocking it, had all of our data still intact.

We sent the guy who was out $650 a $50 gift card for his trouble. In this whole cycle, he was the only loser. We got back our machine. The TSA agent is probably still stealing at San Francisco Airport with an extra $650 bucks in his pocket.

It's nice to have the computer back.  I will never trust TSA again.

Update: 8/5/2013 As many people have pointed out, maybe it wasn't TSA after all.     Here is an article about the arrest of a United employee.    So sorry, TSA!


The Glamour of Travel

I used to travel a lot. The best part of that sentence is the "used to" part. It gets old pretty quickly, especially when there are kids at home. We used to have jobs all around the country and I would often spend weeks at a time trying to get all the bugs out of some system. Some of the places were glamorous like Hawaii and others were Podunk towns in the middle of nowhere with a single Motel 6. On some level it didn't matter much. Wherever we were we worked ungodly hours often getting to in at 8 or 9 and working late into the evening. So, the biggest difference between Van Wert, OH and Denver was the food. Seriously, all we did was work, eat and sleep. Most of the work sites were the same, and it's hard to care much about your hotel room while you are asleep, so food was the make or break differentiator. The local Bob's Big Boy for breakfast, lunch and dinner was hard to take.

There were some exceptions. I once of found myself in Tampa attending a Dry Cleaning Convention (don't ask). I realized that Orlando and Disney World was just a short drive and I had a free day, so I went to Disney World - by myself. You might think this was strange, but I had a blast. It was empty, so I could go on rides multiple times, sit down and relax for awhile it was fun. Standing in lines was a little weird, but I soon found that if I talked a bit to someone else in line, I didn't look do alone.

Working in Hawaii wasn't as much fun, but did have its moments. The first time I went, I stayed at the airport Holiday Inn. The people at the refinery were appalled. They asked if we were charging them for expenses. When I confirmed that they were, they told me to move immediately to the Hilton Hawaiian Village, which is where I stayed from then on. Even the one time that Scott and I had to spend a few weeks leading up to Christmas when everything was booked except the most expensive rooms. We had bathrobes that trip.

There were other nice things. Since we had to wear blue nomex fire suits in the plant, we didn't need anything but T-shirts and shorts. Easy packing and the Smurf Suits weren't too bad to work in. Also, Hawaiians don't work the crazy hours that we usually did on jobs. Each day at 4:30 we stopped. That's it, no negotiation. That left a lot of evenings to hang out on the beach or wander the streets of Honolulu. Got old pretty quickly, but it beat the heck out of Pocatello, ID.

The laid back approach to all things in Hawaii did lead to some conflicts in culture. There was one time in late January 1990 when I was on a mission to get the job done and get home. I kept pushing Lorrin (finally remembered his name!) to leave me behind when he went to lunch, and to stay late. He resisted this, so I told him that I had a deadline and really had to finish the job. Lorrin says, "What, are you having a baby?". To which I answered, "Well, not me, but my wife is!". They stayed late, worked long (well, longer) hours and I was home three weeks before Kevin was born.

The strangest thing about working in Hawaii was this correlation with major medical events in our family. After Kevin's birth, my next trip was scheduled for April. I flew out although Pamela was a little under the weather. I landed in Hawaii about noon and was met at the concourse by Lorrin who told me that Pamela has had emergency gallbladder surgery. I never left the airport, instead, I caught the next flight home. Must be close to the worlds record for the shortest stay in the vacation paradise.

But, the job was still waiting for me. And, in their incredibly laid back Hawaii way, the folks at the refinery kept asking when I would be able to travel. Everything seemed to be settling back to normal at home - well as normal as it can be with two small kids and a mom who is recovering from the last non-laparoscopic gall bladder surgery performed in the United States. I scheduled a flight out late on a Sunday and also Mothers's Day. I figured if I get there the evening before, I'll get an entire Monday of work and that would get me home sooner.

But it was Mother's day and Kyle had a stomachache and then threw up all the junk that he had eaten at brunch. We were worried about him, so we took him to the doctor who agreed that it was nothing to be worried about. We were relieved but, I had already missed my flight. There was another flight that we could just make. So we loaded the kids in the car and off to the airport.

When we arrived, I jumped out of the drivers seat, grabbed my bag and started sprinting to the ticket counter. Pam pretty quickly realized that I have the car keys in my pocket and that I am about to leave her stranded in the white zone forever. I heard calling my name and turned around to see her making the universal car key sign (I guess that is like turning on the air-ignition). So, I grabbed the keys out of my pocket and threw them to her. Luckily this worked, but it could have been a disaster on so many levels.

Anyway, it turned out that I missed that flight anyway, do I spent the night in the city and flew out early Monday morning. I think that this single event led me to developer a "never run for a flight" philosophy that I still adhere to to this day. I don't run for a flight. If I miss it, I was meant to miss it. It I make it, I was meant to make it. Period end of story. Unless, of course, I was headed home. Then wild horses couldn't keep me away for 1 minute longer.

But, I digress. Back to Hawaii and that Monday morning when I arrived in Honolulu. Since it is only midday, I went straight to the refinery where I was handed one of those huge Motorola cell phones from 1990 and told that I had to call my wife. Turns out that Kyle did have appendicitis and has already had surgery. All while I was over the Pacific. He's in his room in a hospital gown for children that Pamela thinks shouldn't exist in the world.

At the hospital the next day, Dr. Mucci chastised Pamela for carrying Kyle so soon after her surgery, so she said, "Well, YOU carry him, then." So, he did. It was during that part, when he was burning up with fever that he kept asking for water, if he was good.

When I got off the phone Lorrin said, "so your son had his appendix removed and he's fine, now, do you can stay, yea?" The other Chevron folks are slowly packing up the tools But, Pamela has told me to get the damn job done, so I stay 3 days and come home to a recovering Kyle and Pamela and a very young Kevin.

About the only good thing about traveling a great deal is the perks that come with being a 100k flyer. For 3 or 4 years most of my flying was in first class. Nowadays when I try to upgrade, my name appears on the list at the bottom. You know, an aircraft with 8 first class seats, and I'm number 25. That bottom. But not back in the early days. I was even seated in economy once and they came and got me because of a no show and moved me. I enjoyed that.

Once, on my way back from Hawaii, I asked how much a first class ticket cost. I got one of those, if you have to ask, you can't buy one looks. Turns out that my little $800 ticket was more like $4,000 for first class. It made me appreciate the free upgrades!

One time that I wasn't upgraded was on a redeye flight leaving SFO and headed to JFK. I ended up sitting in the very last row that didn't even recline on a full flight. It left San Francisco bout 9:00pm do I had been able to spend the whole day with the family. By this time we had two kids and were building our house.

I wasn't happy about being on the flight and put out my best "don't talk to me" vibe. The woman sitting beside me was a writer for Vogue Magazine and she started up a conversation anyway. The flight was dark and quiet and we spoke in quiet tones for most of the flight. I told her about the frustration of not being home and the toll that travel was taking on everyone. She told me about her unsettled life shuffling between offices. She had a boyfriend in San Francisco and one in New York. Neither knew about the other.

At some point, she decided to sum up our situations:

Wait a minute. You are bummed and frustrated by your place in life, but look where you are. You are happily married to a woman who is obviously wonderful. You have two kids who sound awesome. You are building your own house and doing a lot of the work yourself, AND you have your own business with employees and everything! All of that and you are only 30! I, on the other hand, am 35 and can't even figure out which boyfriend I want to be with. Get a clue, you are living a charmed life!

I don't remember if it was get a clue, or buck up, but the meaning was clear. I think about that conversation when I get disheartened or overwhelmed. A random flight: a random person: and a perspective for life.

Speaking of random beautiful women, here is my favorite travel story. This one happens before the Vogue encounter, but it is another late night long travel day. I get off the big plane in Boise and head over to the regional terminal where all the puddle-jumpers depart. It's probably close to 9pm and I've been traveling for hours and still have one more flight to get to some tiny town that is about 90 miles from the Chevron pumping station that I have visit.

I'm hungry and not in a great mood when I walk up to the United Express ticket counter. The lighting is subdued at this time of night in this small terminal, not the glaring brightness or the main terminal. Behind the desk are two beautiful women; one in uniform and one out of uniform, but dressed to kill for a night on the town.

There is nobody else around as I checked into my flight. Just little chit chat going back and forth, when the women out of uniform leaned over the counter and said in a sultry, low voice, "If you miss this flight, I will buy you dinner.". I was stunned. This sort of thing never happens to guys like me. Yes, I am married and have kids at home but, seriously, this has never happened to me.

As these thoughts are going through my mind and I'm working my way back to the "Wow, thank you, but I'm married" response, I can see her expression change as she realizes how I have interpreted the situation. She stammers and says "ah, I'm sorry, ah. I would buy you dinner, but I wouldn't be with you, I just want your seat on the plane to go visit my boyfriend."

Sigh, these things just never happen to guys like me! Someone else must have taken her up I her offer though because she sat next to me on the flight. Her boyfriend sounded like a great guy and, yes, she only had one.

Why I like the word "Olas"

With students coming from all over the country to Stanford, it was pretty common after Freshman year for people to get together for road trips instead of going home. Since I was so close to home, my parents saw me on a fairly irregular basis anyway, so I joined in a couple of those road trips. The first was a trip to Mexico with just four guys. Dan Gerrity, Eric Wendlandt, Bob Reay and I decided to head to Mexican beaches for a week in the sun. The first thing to understand is that we didn't do a lot of planning. We bought airplane tickets from Tijuana to Mazatlan and that was about it. So, we drove to the Mexican boarder figuring that we could get a taxi to give us a ride to the airport. On the US side of the border, there was a large parking lot which we thought was thoughtful. We pulled into a parking space and before we even had a chance to start unloading a card drove up and offered a "taxi" ride to the airport. Well, we really didn't know what taxi's looked like in Mexico, but it all seemed pretty easy so we loaded up. A quick trip through the border check station and we were on our way. The driver was a friendly guy who spoke great english and offered to be at the airport when we arrived back at the end of our week. We gave him our flight information never expecting to see him again. But when we arrived back at the airport, he was there with a smile and his same beat up car. We hopped in and chatted lightly about our adventures.

When we got back to the border, there appeared to be some sort of problem with the U.S. Custom's agents. They asked a lot of questions and finally had us pull over into a "hardcore" inspection area. The driver got out, quickly huddled with us and told us to tell the guys with the guns that we were cousins just visiting Mexico. We looked at him like he was nuts. We didn't know what was wrong, but no way we were going to lie to the border patrol. And, these guys tore the car apart like you wouldn't believe. They took the seats out, they took off the tires, the hub-caps and removed much of the carpet. They siphoned gas out of the gas-tank. They were serious. Turns out that our "Taxi" driver was just a guy with a car who was making money being an illegal taxi and he had just exceeded the maximum number of border crossings allowed before they tear your car apart. They questioned us at length, and when they finally decided that no drugs were involved they left us to put the car back together.

But, I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's get back to our arrival in Mexico!

We hit the beaches in Mazatlan with gusto. Fabulous beaches that I remembered well from my youth. While growing up, most of our family vacations were to Mexico and always over winter break. Don't ask me how we managed to spend three weeks in Mexico every couple of years in December with never a worry about school (although when I was older, I took a Basketball and was constantly searching for places to shoot hoops to keep my "touch"). Usually there were grandparents or cousins, aunts and uncles along, but regardless of who went with us these trips always started the same way; with an all-night car ride from Healdsburg into Mexico. Only later did I find out that the reason my Dad drove all night long was to make the trip quicker for us kids. While we slept (somehow kids can sleep in cars?!?) my Dad drove and magically we would find ourselves in Yuma Arizona and town that always seemed to be a mile long and only two blocks wide.

There we would find the local Sanborn's office to purchase car insurance for our trip. The concept of insurance was mostly lost on us kids, but the absolutely wonderful travel guides weren't. To this day, I've never found anything like the mile by mile guides of Mexico roads that kept us busy for hours and educated us about the country we were visiting. Seriously, these guides talked about almost every thing you passed. Rocks with interesting writing, microwave antennas on the hill in the distance, a side road to an isolated town, everything. There weren't large gaps either. Someone would read out loud almost the entire trip. It was wonderful. Wanna make a mint today? Do MP3 files for roads today. I'd buy 'em.

Although there were overnight stops, the main goal of this trip was to reach Mazatlan. Yes, we had adventures on the way there. We arrived at an border check point that was quite a ways inside of Mexico during a lunch break and my Dad bribed the guards to process us through instead of wait. At one of the overnight stops, we stayed in the Hotel Dora (yup, like my grandmother's name). Man, was this hotel Blue. Anyway, it was hot and the pool looked inviting. Looks can be deceiving. You know that feeling when the cold is so intense that you can't breath? Well, someone had to pull Steve out of that water. We learned to stay away.

We stayed in Mazatlan for weeks. Sometimes in the same Hotel, sometimes in different ones. Hotel Gaviotas a couple of times. Hotel Del los Arcos another. Regardless, we were always on the beach where we built amazing sand castles, played in the waves and lived wonderfully. Going out far enough that the waves were just swells that would lift you off of the bottom and gently set you down again was my favorite water sport. Although there are family pictures, the most amazing sand castle in the world exists only in our memories. Although we took pictures, Longs Drug store in Santa Rosa ruined 13 rolls of film from that trip. We got 13 free rolls, but not another replacement vacation from them.

Fireworks were always a big part of our trips. They are everywhere in Mexico. Our favorite thing to do was to take large bottle rockets and fire them into the waves as they were breaking. These things are waterproof, so the explode underwater. If you time it just right the rocket would explode just as it hit the wave and illuminate it for a few years on each side. Sometimes you could see fish in the waves. Cool.

In addition to the bottle rockets there were firecrackers. There were the regular old small ones that we had a blast with and there were bigger ones. Some of the big ones we called "big beachos". Others we called "1/2 stick of dynamites". You get the idea. These things were huge and huge firecrackers are just invitations for mischief in kids. We tried lots different things with them. The most memorable was when we decided to build a huge mound of sand about 3 feet high. Then we dug a tunnel into the side and placed the 1/2 stick in the bottom. We lit it and then quickly sealed the entrance with a coffee can. Then we ran. And waited. We weren't disappointed.

We had built this pile about midway between the breaking waves and the beach hotels. Unfortunately, we dug the tunnel on the side facing a hotel with a nice beach-side patio. An elderly couple sat at a little table about 50-75 feet away from our creation. When the fire cracker went off the can flew and we followed it as it arched through the sky straight toward the couple. It landed on the table between them and bounced away. The man, who was reading, calmly looked up and yelled "Could you take that a little further down the beach?". We did. And we didn't stop our experiments either.

We had our favorite restaurants in Mazatlan. El Shrimp Bucket was #1 on our list. Huge buckets of shrimp that I didn't like, but the french fries that filled the bottom of the buckets was like heaven. The place has business cards on every wall and Mariachi bands nightly. We were always welcomed as friends and we knew the waiter's by name.

Sometimes the adults had a bit too much to drink - I guess the Margaritas were spectacular. I do remember being in Uncle Pete's van after one of these means and just yelling "Once more around the fountain" as we went round and round the round about with the fountain in the middle. Perhaps Pete shouldn't have been driving.

It was in Mazatlan that we discovered Quesadillas. Anyone in the US today wouldn't even think twice about these, but in 1968 nobody had heard of them. It was in a little restaurant where the owner asked us if we wanted to try something unusual. They were fabulous and we ate way too many. From that point on, Quesadillas were served in the Deas household.

We also rented motorcycles here during one of the later trips. We drove those things up and down the beach road past miles and miles of open beach unmarred by Hotels. During my college trip, we found that Mazatlan had expanded to gobble up that land with miles and miles of hotels. With that explosive growth came an expanding population that quickly outstripped the inadequate infrastructure of this "little" town. You had to move further and further down the beach to the newer hotels to get clean water and pristine beaches. The town that we visited as college students was experiencing growth pains.

We had Christmas in Mexico at least once. There were small things, but the "big" Christmas was reserved for when we returned home. But we did pinatas and celebrated anyway. Speaking of Christmas in Mexico, Mazatlan wasn't the only city we visited. If you haven't seen the streetlights in Guadalajara at Christmas time, then you haven't lived. Amazing scenes over every intersection with white lights block after block. Pretty cool.

I don't remember a lot about Guadalajara except the lights. We also visited Puerta Vallarta, Mexico City and Acapulco one some of the trips. I remember walking up the pyramids at Teotihuacan, the floating gardens of Xochemilco, the Cliff of Acapulco. In Puerta Vallarta I remember a wave so large that my hand got yanked out of my Dad's and I tumbled up the beach while we both search for "up". Although we had other adventures, Mazatlan held our hearts.

I was probably thinking about these trips when Pamela and I decided to Honeymoon in Mexico starting at Mazatlan. Here it was in 1986 and we found ourselves eating at El Shrimp Bucket with me telling stories and even seeing waiters that I recognized. We booked our stay at Hotel Cid, that was located so far down the beach road that I'm not sure we even went that far on the motorcycles. The hotel was notable for being the vertical equivalent of Yuma. It was a mile tall and one room wide. If you haven't been there, you can't imagine it. We were on the 40th floor and the building swayed. Our room looked out over the ocean and 4 hotels under construction. 40 floors down we could see the swimming pool.

But it was the 4 hotels under construction that made us move. After a fairly nervous night.... I found myself in the morning watching the construction project next door. It was a concrete structure and after careful examination, I could identify only a small amount of rebar. The forms were held in place with trees. Yup, need some wood, go get a tree and cut most of the limbs off. Wedge it in and you've got support. The concrete was being mixed at the bottom and a 5 gallon bucket was lowered for the 20th floor down using a rope and pulley system. The bucket would be filled, pulled up, poured and lowered again. I swear, every pour produced a cold joint.

One of the wonderful things about being married to Pamela is that often we find ourselves in agreement about the important things in life. Well, it started early. We were thrilled to vacation in Yellowstone in the Winter (something we still enjoy) before were were married. And, we were unanimous in our decision to move. We found a wonderful place were the rooms were like caves. Our room was at ground (or a little below) level and glass doors opened onto the patio. In the evenings the band for the bar was bit too close, but we laughed at hearing Nueva York, Nueva York multiple times every night. It was in this room that I almost died.

Remember that meal at El Shrimp Bucket? Or maybe it was El Senior Frog's. Who knows for sure, but two days into our trip, I was hit with the worst case of the touristas that I ever had. Trust me, I know how to travel in Mexico. I don't drink the water. I don't get ice in my drinks. I'm extremely careful about what I eat. The world is ruled by virus' and bacteria we can't see. Most of the time, they let us live here pretty well. But sometimes they get pissed.

One of the things they tell you when visiting Mexico is this - if you get sick, call a doctor. So after a horrid night mostly spent on the floor of the bathroom, Pamela called for the doctor. I remember lying there in bed, moaning when he came in. He was young and handsome. He examined me and told me that he wanted to give me a shot of antibiotics and vitamins. I was in no condition to protest. He took out a glass vial, broke off the top and pulled the contents into a syringe. It took me a few days to feel well enough to travel, so we had to postpone our plane ride to Mexico city by a day. I don't think that my new wife had expected a "For Better or For Worse" situation quite so soon. Oh, and if you're going to be sick in Mexico, pick the cave hotel in Mazatlan with the young doctor and the Nueva York Band.

Pamela and I went on to Mexico City were we stayed in the Hotel Geneva. A Hotel that you could only get to by turning down a one-way street the wrong way. This was a few years after the big Mexico City Quake and there was a lot of construction and damage still evident. We found a great restaurant that was clean and good, so we ate many meals at Delmonico's. We visited the same pyramids and floating gardens. And, Pamela spent a long time in the bathroom.

I didn't know the whole story until years later. But it was in Mexico City, after I was healthy again, that Pamela started to second-guess the whole "For Better or For Worse" deal she had agreed to. For me, I was just hanging out on our bed reading and relaxing. Evidently, I wasn't very in-tune with her this day. Turns out that she found herself in the bathroom, naked with some strange guy, who she really didn't know all that well, who was between her and her clothes and passport. Panic set in. She tried to figure out how to get me out of the way and plans a complete getaway that included finding a taxi that would take her the wrong way down the one-way street. She was pretty sure that if she could get to the airport, she could get home. Who was this guy anyway? She really was too young to be married. Married?!?! Surely this is a dream/nightmare. In the end, she decided to just come out. I said "Hey, wanna go to Delmonicos?" She said "Sure". Ignorance is bliss.

After Mexico City, it was on to Cancun where we learned that if you walk up to the Hertz counter during lunch the "We rent junk cars" guy hangs out and preys on people who think he's Hertz. "Air conditioning? Nobody needs air conditioning in Cancun! It's always 75 and sunny". We got in and started to look for a Hotel. We didn't make any reservations ahead of time, intending to just be spontaneous. We tried a few hotels on the beach and they were all full. After each stop, the car got hotter and hotter. Finally, my beautiful bride, turned to me with sweat running down her face and said, "I don't care where, but get me to a hotel NOW". So, we settled for a nice little place in downtown Cancun. Only after we settled in and started to relax did I see that the car contract didn't say "Hertz". Take it from me. Get air conditioning in your car if you go to Cancun.

We had a great time visiting ruins at Tulum, snorkeling and generally sightseeing. All of this brings me back to our college trip and why I like the word "Olas".

So, here are four college guys hanging out in Mazatlan. Bob Reay learned the fine art of bargaining. A guy comes along the beach with dozens of cowboy hats that Bob admires. One hat in particular caught his fancy and it was offered to him for $20. Bob replied that he only had $1 with him. The vendor, knowing this game well, tells Bob that, for him, the hat could be purchased for $15. Bob replied that he only had $1. The vendor looked annoyed, nodded and agreed to $12. Bob replied that he only had $1. The vendor walked off down the beach only to turn around and come back after going 100 yards or so. He offered Bob the hat for $7 - a price that would only recoup his cost. Bob replied that he only had $1. The vendor stalked off 10 yards, returned tossed the hat to Bob, who paid him $1. Hmmm...

Here it was 1981 and there were more activities to do in Mazatlan than when I was a kid. We drank too much at El Shrimp Bucket. I remember girls dancing on tables and tequila shots. This was new to me and, although I drank too much, it really wasn't all that much. There were also parachute rides. For this activity, you go to the beach and find a dude with a parachute. No paperwork, no liability waivers, just a guy taking your money, and hooking you up in the harness of a parachute that connects you via a LONG LONG rope to a speedboat that is out beyond the breakers.

Once you're in, they wave a flag and the boat takes off and, well, you do too. It's quite awesome. They only thing they said to me as I took off was, "Are you sure you want to take your camera?". I had my Nike FE around my neck. I nodded and we were off. As I started to gain altitude, I wanted to take a picture. This was tricky since it meant that you had to let go and trust the harness. I figure I can hold on with one hand and grab the camera with the other hand. A I raise it to my eye, I realize that the telephoto lens is zoomed in all the way and that they only way to fix this is to let go with my other hand. I get my courage up, let go and grab the lens with my right hand and give it a quick twist and... it comes off in my hand. So, here I am "miles" above the ocean hanging from a parachute that really needs me to hold on and I've got a camera body in one hand and a telephoto lens in the other. I briefly thought about dropping both and going with self-preservation. In the end, I carefully put the lens back into the camera, locked it in place, took a few quick pictures then dropped the camera to dangle from my neck and held on for dear life for the rest of the ride.

After our fun in Mazatlan, we spent a night in a small village hotel that cost $7 per night. It was clean and wonderful. For the life of me, I can't remember the town's name. I do know that we entered it in style. We really didn't know where we were going and, darn it, GPS navigation systems hadn't been invented yet. Anyway, we have a heck of a time with the traffic in the town. The main street is one big traffic jam. After trying to horn our way in between vehicles, we finally made it into the long line of cars. Then we notice that the streets are remarkably crowded with people and that they are all watching the vehicles. We were so focused on directions and street names that we didn't realize that we had entered a parade. Every car, truck and bus in town was decorated and we weren't. We waved like crazy and people waved back. If you find yourself accidently in a parade, always remember to smile and wave boys!

Our destination was San Blas, a sleepy fishing village on the coast. We stayed in a nice little hotel that was just a few blocks from the main square. If you've every found yourself in a small Mexican village square at night, you know that it's where the locals go on evenings, especially weekend evenings. People would form small groups and walk around the square greeting others and generally enjoying the night. It's a cultural thing. When Mexicans do the same thing in our Healdsburg plaza, the local complain about the loitering. Instead of seeing it as a wonderful community event, it's loitering.

Anyway, we joined in the plaza stroll on a Saturday evening and had a great time. Just four gringo's hanging out caught the attention of 4 young ladies from the University of Guadalajara who were also vacationing in San Blas. They asked if we wanted to go dancing and led us down a back alley to an open courtyard where we settled in at tables for dinner, drinks and dancing. They were fun, innocent and made fun of our attempts at Spanish, but they didn't speak any English, so it's all we had.

At the end of the evening they invited us to meet them the next day at "The most beautiful beach in Mexico". Of course we agreed and the next morning set about to find it. What we found was a beautiful, white sand beach that led in both directions as far as the eye could see. And, at about 11am we were the only ones there. Soon the 4 girls showed up and we hung out on the beach, talking and occassionally heading out into the waves.

It was then that I asked Maria how to say "waves" in Spanish. We were kinda off by ourselves standing in waist deep water letting the waves break against our backs. Actually she was out a bit further than I and she was facing the beach. She told me the word was "Olas". I looked confused and repeated "Holas".. like "Hellos?". She giggled and said yes, you know like "hello" as she waved with her hand. It finally dawned on me that waving with her hand was saying "Hola" which is a "wave". Ola. Just then, a large wave came up behind her and I said, "Hay una Ola Grande!!!" just as the wave broke over her completely removing the top of her bikini. I turned my back to her, to allow her to recover, but I still really like the word "Olas".