08 December, 2009

Good Floods Make Good Hyprcri- er, ...Neighbors.


There's nothing better to heal your spirit and get back in touch with Nature than to awaken to the sound of gently falling rain.  Unless it's at 4:30 am, on my head, in my bedroom!

Apparently a plumbing malfunction occurred one floor up and one flat over from mine.  As it always must be, said occupant was inconsiderately away, dead, or simply not answering the door for whatever reason. Excitement ensued with the building president shutting off the water to stem the tsunami and yours truly being delegated official picture-taker of the flood (for insurance or strange voyeur fetish, I couldn’t say).

Interesting thing about that last part. I’ve been living in my apartment building for over a year now, developing the assumption that I must be a pedophile, drug-dealer, Finance Minister or some other lowest form of life, and it’s just that everyone else knows it except me. My friendly smiles as we pass at the lift are returned with suspicious glares, my “good morning” is met with an intolerant grunt, if not outright disdain. I’ve long stopped expecting so much as a halfhearted “thanks” when I hold the front door open (which, despite this, I will refuse to stop doing), and when I ask someone their name I get a response suited to a request of oral sex. In a septic tank. On an incontinent tree sloth. Around here, "being neighborly" exclusively means notes on your door thteatening to call the police about the noise after the single time you trip over your coffee table during a midnight call to nature.

But on this particular soggy morning, they all, to the last individual, not only already knew I was the building’s resident shutterbug but all at once, I was in the highest demand, being met with actual eye contact, dare I say gently entreating smiles, and addressed by name, even unto “Domnule” ("Mister") nonetheless!

The flat next to mine got hit bad, being directly under the action, transformed into a grotto that would have done any statue of Saint Mary proud. I couldn’t be upset about a few drops and wet marks on my ceiling, cliche as it was, being perfectly centered over my dormant dome. But water found its way down through 5 floors of solid concrete to puddle up inside the lobby. Now that was impressive! Even more impressive, I suspect, will be what gets done to fix this mess… another of life’s lessons in communal living, I guess. And another apparently-needed reminder that I gave up a 3-story house on 40,000 meters of land in New Jersey for this…

UPDATE: The explanation given is that the yabos upstairs left water running while "they went to work." 4:00 am implies a night shift, and "they" implies more than one person working it. Leaving that high degree of coincidence alone for now, let's work the logistics.  Under normal circumstances (which this apparently was), a toilet will stop by itself and so will a washing machine. I suppose you could consider "turning off the faucet" a mere option in defining yourself done with the dishes, shower, toothbrushing, etc. but in those cases, the water would drain and nothing would flood, so no harm to anyone except your water bill which you'd richly deserve anyway. This narrows it down to something that needs to be actively plugged, which leaves us with a bath (tub) or a shave (sink). Even so, you'd likely have shut off the water because it would have overflowed WHILE YOU WERE STILL THERE and you'd probably notice. So this is my final quandry: What kind of running water can you walk away from and NOT NOTICE?

VERDICT: Grand Theft Oxygen. Sentence: sterilization by opened microwave oven.

In these decrepit crumbling blocs, claiming a "busted pipe" would have been 100% plausible and even garnered some sympathy. Instead, we get "uh, we forgot." What is that? That doesn't even save face. It shouts to the world, "We're incomprehensibly stupid and/or careless!" Worse, it shouts this to the poor folk living beneath them. Ah well, I'm told they paid for damages. At least some, namely the downstairs flat.  If they wanted to address ALL the damage in this situation, it would require some fairly expensive lobotomies...

P.S.: One photo of water dripping from the neighbor's ceiling light has become the banner of this blog. It sums up my general mood about life here...

05 June, 2009

Asshole Driver of the Day

There's a ratio of about 10:1 in my experience with this stuff: in other words, for every time I manage to snap a photo of a traffic turd doing his/her thing, it represents about 10 other similar waste products for whom I missed the photo opportunity.

Today's exhibit: when you don't feel like waiting in traffic like everyone else, just hop up on the sidewalk!  The motion blur of the black Mitsubishi at the right of this photo should tell you that it was not merely parked on the sidewalk (not enough cameras exist in the world to capture all of those), but it was merrily scooting past the gridlock, honking at pedestrians to get out of its way as if it had every right to do so. 

Most often it's a taxi that you'll find doing this, but I guess regular folks can join in on the fun too, if your car can clear the curb height when jumping off the road!

13 May, 2009

I Can Take It, I Can Dish It Out...

Above and beyond the usual cruelty I inflict upon your intelligence with my diatribes, I now inflict cruelty on your appetite. The specific type of cruelty depends on whether you've just eaten, or are at the moment, quite famished. I will periodically share with you some of the cooking I do. Although you wouldn't know it by looking at me... man does not live by popcorn and McDonalds alone!

Hmm, when you look at it all together like that, I suppose I shouldn't so wonder why my significant others grow larger as the relationship grows longer...

04 May, 2009

Romanian Jokes Used to Confuse Me, Until I Became One

I have a few friends who doggedly maintain the attempt to translate the Romanian humor that flies around our dinner tables. Invariably, however, the conversion from Rom to Eng is virtually the conversion from "Howl!" to "Huh?" And it's not usually a fault in translation, as one friend is a proven pro at translating not just the words of a thing, but also the meaning and spirit, even unto wordplay. Nor is it my lack of a sense of humor, which in all modesty is quite developed, mostly for reasons of survival. Nope, it appears to be the actual content which leaves me cold, for what is hilarious to an historically impoverished, oppressed Balkan seems, at best, surreal and at worst, incomprehensible to an historically overfed, privileged American. No common frame of reference I fear.

Here's the example that started this entry in motion, as translated to me with significant care: On a sweltering Bucharest summer day of 40 degrees, an old man is walking about in full winter clothes, sweating profusely. Someone asks him why on earth he is dressed like this in such weather. He replies:


"It's the situation!"

If you got anything from this besides the sound of virtual crickets chirping, then for god's sake reply to this entry and tell me what I am missing. My dinner guests were laughing so hard I feared for the dryness of the seat covers.

But I digress. I came here today to write about the best way to understand a "situation:" live it.

THE SITUATION: My car, an American sports import, needs new brakes for the back wheels.

  1. Zip down to NAPA, Pep Boys, AutoZone, or any of 10 such shops in a 5-mile radius, or in a pinch, even the dealership if you don't mind paying extra.
  2. Obtain brake parts from stock on hand.
  3. Install new equipment myself, as I've been doing it for 25 years so for me it's about as hard as tying your shoelace.


  1. Zip down to the only store in Bucharest which professes to sell parts for American cars. Discover the pads are available for 500% more than US price, and the disks are 600% more but will take 45 days to order. Kindly invite them to shove it.
  2. Call and/or visit and/or surf to every other auto parts place in and around Bucharest which professes to sell parts for "import" cars. Discover they mean "import" as in elsewhere in the EU but not the US. Discover they will offer to order the parts, which, from the time and cost being quoted, you strongly suspect will simply consist of a call from their shop to the gougers of Step 1, above. Kindly invite them to shove it.
  3. Do NOT think of approaching the dealership, which is already known to charge prices and time comparable to the Step 1 Gougers, but will additionally not release the parts for DIY as the car is still under lease and therefore must be done by them at no less than €300 labor cost and the loss of the car for up to a week. Kindly invite them to shove it.
  4. Attempt to order parts from US website which was my favorite and frequently-used when I lived there. Smile when they remember me from previous orders. Cry when they refuse to accept online order from "Hacker Heaven" Romania. Scream when they let me go through the cost and charade of ordering by phone only to receive an email two days later that "our computer 'broke down' and we lost your order information." Translation: "no way, no how are we risking shipping to Romania, no matter who you are." Kindly invite them to shove it.
  5. Analyze list of friends and family in US who might buy and ship the parts for you. Unfortunately, spectacularly egregious shipping rates in the US, and/or the fact that my friends and family haven't heard from me since I left the US 6 years ago, means I am, by inference of non-response, kindly invited to shove it.
  6. Crawl back with tail between legs to Step 1 Gougers because by now brake pads are completely worn and beginning to cut the disks. Enjoy as Gouger declares, without even checking, that he doesn't have any more. Apparently even 400% profit isn't sweet enough revenge for having been told to shove it back in Step 1.
  7. Give serious consideration to learning mass transit. Learn that as an obvious foreigner I'd be a superconducting magnet for thieves.
  8. Give serious consideration to using taxis. Learn that as an obvious foreigner my half-kilometer destination would entail a citywide tour with the fare meter running thrice normal speed.
  9. Start exploring other EU countries from which to order parts. Spend several days waiting for email and/or phone calls to be returned with the most basic of information to help make a decision, if any.
  10. Settle on one seller in the UK, which seems to be the best price/shipping ratio. Ask for quote.
  11. Ask for another quote when they forget that VAT is not paid on transactions between two EU companies.
  12. Ask for wire transfer information when they tell you they don't accept credit cards.
  13. Try to transfer using online banking. Give up after an hour and drive to bank for help in person, in a car that now sounds like a knife sharpener on steroids.
  14. Discover that the problem with online transfer was that I can't transfer Pounds Sterling unless I open a bank account in Pounds Sterling.
  15. Wait 45 minutes for bank account to be opened in Pounds Sterling and funds transferred.
  16. Wait another 90 minutes for Pounds Sterling to be transferred by wire from new Pounds Sterling Bank Account. The process goes something like this: Transcribe the computer printout of the payee information which I brought with me into a bank-approved handwritten 2-part carbon form. Hand the handwritten form to the girl to transcribe again into the computer at an average rate of 2 keystrokes per second, from where she ultimately gives me - wait for it - a computer printout of the payee information. Furthermore, I was apparently the most exotic request the bank had had in weeks as 2 other workers left their desks to offer well-intentioned, if completely conflicting, suggestions to my banker as she lurched through this obviously unfamiliar procedure.


At minimum, if all goes perfectly from this point, I may have my parts in another 5 - 10 working days. I'm crossing my fingers but not holding my breath. There will be another chapter to this saga but I needed to write down what's happened so far before I forget, or at least mellow my recollection with the passage to time. Stay tuned.

So, the ultimate point of this entry is that to understand the humor derived from the average Romanian situation, I suppose it's necessary to put yourself through one or more average Romanian situations. Whether or not this is true, I have to say it works for me. At least, I think it does. I choose to interpret it as simply timesaving if, when confronted with a joke like "It's the situation!" that causes everyone else to laugh until they cry, I just skip ahead to crying.


I'm happy to admit I may have been a tad harsh on my UK parts supplier. On Monday, as noted above, I made the wire transfer. On Tuesday I wrote to them to remind them to check for the payment. On Wednesday, they wrote back simply "payment received, parts sent" and a tracking number. On Friday, I left my cellphones at home so I didn't catch up on my business calls until too late at night to return them, but there was an unfamiliar number which I then called back today (Monday). Turns out it was the courier wanting to know if I'd be home to receive my package, which means it could have even been here on Friday! So, I stayed home from the office, and sure enough the bell soon rings and I suddenly get a taste of how Moses must have felt when he received his 10 (15?) commandments from the Almighty:

With the help of a helpful helper, these puppies went on in just about two hours. In fact, the last lugnut was being tightened just as the first fat drops of a thunderstorm rolled in. Okay, they were also the last fat drops, it being a particularly low-producing storm more concerned with filling its quota of thunder and lightning than actual moisture, particularly worrisome since by then I was in the shower trying not to think of the "Mythbusters" episode where they proved, via frying a mannequin, that people do indeed get struck by lighting inside a house during a storm if they are silly enough to play with water and the metal fixtures it comes out of, but I digress.

In conclusion, I am in a place of life right now where I am bombarded by so much conflict and bad news that I cling onto every tiny success like a lifering in a perfect storm. After many false starts and dead ends, fixing the brakes on my damn car will do just fine for awhile. The fact that I can hold my head up without shame again because I'm not driving a mobile food processor anymore, actually overshadows the stupid insanity that stole six weeks from my life for a chore that should have taken a few hours, tops.

03 May, 2009

Sometimes Bathroom Humor Writes Itself...

Noted at the shiny new mighty Baneasa Fashion Mall. Granted, they were under no obligation to label the bathrooms in English, but I've always been the type to say, if it's worth doing, it's worth doing right. If you're going to use English to impress the anticipated influx of wealthy Euroids and other expats, try a spellcheck for pete's sake.

And now the promised joke: maybe it's an effort to get the guys in and out of the can ASAP, since they sure as heck can't sit "for a spell." Yuk yuk yuk.

15 April, 2009

License Tag of the Day

Near as I can tell, this one started life as a legitimate Bucharest tag, and the existing letters were blanked out with white paint and then new numbers drawn over them. There are almost as many innovative ways to make fake tags as there are fake tags!

Having said that, I've seen a few instances of very legitimate-looking tags where the raised letters are clearly one thing, and the machine-painted letters are another. So it appears this technique is sometimes used even by the real tag maker. Makes things a lot clearer. Not.

13 April, 2009

Wrong Side Driver of the Day

A New Feature here at Righteous Motorist HQ... Misplaced Brits? No, more like Lawless Twats.

I said it before and I'll say it again. I grew up driving in Manhattan for many years, and then Los Angeles for a few more. The two most crowded cities in the whole USA, people! But even in the worst traffic jams, it would be rare to see someone so much as change lanes without a signal. I don't profess to know the real reason... the old-school "American drivers are just nicer" is likely giving way to "American traffic cops are getting more fascist and can read your licence plate from 5 miles" mixed with "American drivers often carry guns under their seats, do you really want to cut this guy off?" But I digress.

The point is, of all the stupid things we Americans do each day, proportionately few of them are on the road. But fear not; if you are hungry for a dose of moronic motorists, have I got the place for you!

Bucharest seems to view its motorways as showcases for insanity. Got an urge to do something incredibly stupid? Hop in your car! What we call a city street, you can call a big asphalt* stage, ready for your performance! What we call fellow drivers, you can call a captive audience!

Much has been written about Bucharest traffic. Google it and you'll see. Seriously: go right now and open a new tab, and Google "bucharest traffic." It's okay, I'll wait here.

Back? Good. Now, instead of reinventing the wheel, I'll simply be bringing you specific examples as they happen across me (hopefully not literally but it comes close sometimes). The trend these days is jumping into the oncoming traffic lanes when you don't feel like waiting in the traffic jam with the rest of us chumps.

The big fat rich cars (presumably with big fat rich drivers inside) just bludgeon their way along on the wrong side, literally causing the correctly-approaching traffic to swerve around them.

The small cars try to be more sneaky about it, driving with their hazard lights on, diving back into the correct traffic or pulling up onto the sidewalk when oncoming traffic approaches (as this little red car was doing). I've even seen them turn around and drive down the opposite side in reverse so that a still photo, such as I would take, would show a normally-facing car for that side of the road.

Thus, a new phase of construction begins on my Bucharest Motorist Wall of Shame. I hope the Internet is big enough!

*Assuming a street is paved correctly, or at all, is still quite a chancy thing in this city...

12 April, 2009

07 April, 2009

Who knew? Emo Kids come from Romania!

Spotted on the main road coming into Buftea: Emo Kid Manufacturing HQ! Not shown are the other divisions behind the main building: "Self-Pity" and "Whininess."

27 March, 2009

Scammity Scam, Wonderful Scam...

You may have seen this guy canvassing for handouts at the intersection of Lacul Tei and Doamna Ghica. What you probably haven't seen, is that when he decides he's had enough, he hops over to the bushes, straps on his artificial leg, and walks off with little more than a limp. I would not make this claim unless I had seen it with my own eyes, which I have. I drive this way every day to work, and usually a different hour each time. So it was only a matter of time until I caught him at the end of his "shift." It'll only be a matter of more time until I get a photo of it, so stay tuned.

20 March, 2009

License Tag of the Day

Next on the catwalk is the very latest in shipping carton cardboard, sporting some very sexy black marker accents. Sure to be all the rage later this spring, look for it everywhere.

16 March, 2009

Talk about a job with inherent hazards...

Further proof that life's pleasures don't have to be big, extravagant events, I was recently introduced to this really tasty toast topper: Spreadable Goat Cheese.
The only question I have, which nobody seems able to answer, is where the heck in the world do they raise Spreadable Goats? I get the feeling this is one of those things we're all better off not knowing...

11 March, 2009

Bucharest License Tag of the Day

This one caught my eye because of my history as a graphic artist and desktop publisher. In a few jobs I've had, fonts were crucial on a daily basis so I've developed a keen eye for typefaces. On its own, this doesn't look terribly out of place:

But put it next to any other Romania tag, and you can see what's amiss.
This time, the tag appeared to be done in correctly-raised metal lettering, not a hint of Sharpie in sight. But even allowing for the slightly foreshortened angle of the subject tag (I could have straightened it out in Photoshop but 1. it's not such a significant distortion, and 2. I'm lazy), note the difference in overall width of the characters, and certainly the shape (including the usage of serifs). You can directly compare the "B," "7," "S" and "L."
I took this photo at least 2 weeks ago and have yet to see another tag done in this style, so that seems to rule out the possibility that Romania is retooling its license-tag production. There are so many things that desperately need retooling in this place far more than license tags, but I digress.
So, I put the same question out there as before - anyone have an idea why this might be? It seems quite an effort and expense for a fraud, but it clearly isn't standard issue either. Hopefully we shall see...

19 February, 2009

Not all my Shots are Cheap...

In honor of the Anti-Crisis Business Networking Meeting in Bucharest today, here is a small reminder that other than wasting my days away diatribing on a blog, some of my other endeavors actually have some value:

(click for a larger version)

That's right, tremble in fear, mere mortals... I own a camera! HAHAHAHAHA!

In point of fact, with the evolution of convergence technology, specifically cell phones, it's getting harder to find people out there who don't own cameras. And don't pooh-pooh those camera phones, either. My Nokia N93 had a 3mp camera with Zeiss lens and a 3x optical (not digital) zoom. That gave it the honest equivalent of a 9mp camera. And my new LG Renoir is 8mp right out of the box. Considering some of my early floral shots from 2003 were done with a 3mp Sony Cybershot, it shows how far digital cameras have come, and ironically, how little of "good photography" is determined by megapixel count. In fact, unless someone out there comes up with some REALLY good software, and in which case he will have to be sequestered with Salman Rushdie to avoid the angry wrath of the world's leading photographers, cameras, no matter how good or expensive, remain in the category of tools. You either know how to use them or you don't. The world's most luxurious and well-made hammer, say, for example, the kind for which the Pentagon pays $2,000 each, is still useless in the hands of someone who can't hold a nail steady. A hydraulic automobile lift is worth nil if you don't know a generator from a geranium. And the new 21mp Canon EOS 5D Mk. II (and my birthday is coming, hint hint) is naught but a very glassy and metal-ly paperweight if you think "composition" is the report on amoebas your kid has due in Biology class on Monday. But I digress.

I take good photos. There's no getting around it. I'm not saying nobody's better. There are some awesome photographers even in my own small circle of friends. But if you like good photos and can't quite get the hang of doing it yourself, give me a ring up and let's talk. Some people have actually been known to pay me real money to take photos for them. If you would like to join this small but elite group of connoiseurs, I promise not to stand in your way.

18 February, 2009

It's a sign of something, but what?

A year or two ago, I traveled with a Romanian comrade back to the US. In touring major cities like New York and Washington, he commented on the sheer number of signs lining the streets. Directives for speed, parking, direction, litter, wipers, lights, turns, limits... his mind boggled. "Do you Americans need signs to tell you every little thing?" he asked. I couldn't argue. There are a few reasons why this is true; in America the law system is clogged to a standstill with stupidity (Google "frivolous lawsuits"), so the result is to attempt to pre-emptively spell everything out beforehand with signs to take the guesswork out of what should be done... and to minimize the lawsuits from idiots who drive their cars into the river because there wasn't a sign telling them NOT to. This couples well with the secondary but more historical reason for these signs: Americans just like being told what to do. We're too lazy to think for ourselves, or else we don't want to accept the responsibility of what might happen if what we think for ourselves turns out to be wrong. So we've empowered our government to think for us, and common sense is now attempted through legislation. But I digress.

The point is, with the million or so signs in each city block of any US metropolis, they are at least organized and displayed in a clear manner. Not so in Bucharest! While driving in Piata Victoriei, my attention was called to this amusing foul-up:

Leave it to these guys to screw up the display of not hundreds, not dozens, but just TWO signs. One is immediately in front of the other, the photo is not a trick of perspective. There is maybe half a meter between the signs. The one in front shows neighborhoods, the one in back shows highway directions. If you were not already familiar with the city, which sign do you think would be more important to you?

Ahh, forget it, I'll get an ulcer with this kind of stuff. Let's go read about those great street cleaning folks again.


It's probably a result of the recent elections, so don't expect it to last very long, but throughout the city, at all hours of day or night, you can see these intrepid souls in all weather. All they do is sweep the curbs and keep them clean - to the best of their abilities, of course... they're only human. I see them everywhere I go, and I go a lot in this town. Lately I've noticed they've become less cautious, or more defiant, or both, about working in the way of heavy traffic at rush hour, and you have to dodge a bit more than before. Still, they always appear to be working hard, never lounging around smoking or other leisure postures that one might expect from unionized labor. In a city that offers so little worthy of respect, this is one thing. Smile and wave if you catch their eye, and for any taxi drivers reading this, try not to hit them directly as you toss your complete McDonalds meal trash out your window...

17 February, 2009

Breakfast at the IHOP

In the US, a popular pastime is going out for breakfast at a franchise restaurant named International House of Pancakes. Since Americans are inherently fond of saving effort, this has been shortened, even by the restaurant itself, to the acronym IHOP. It is pronounced "eye-hop."

In Bucharest, it appears that breakfast at the IHOP is also popular, at least among the Gypsy population. Except in this case there's no acronym, breakfast literally means "IHOP over the locked gate to your trash can, slice open the bags therein, strew their contents all over the place digging for edibles, and feast on the opposite curb" (see my earliest blog entry).

So one morning I finally had my camera phone working at the right time: here's the breakfast nook all set up, complete with customer:

...and here's the chef, upper left, in mid-climb over the padlocked gate to the trash can, lower right. Within minutes the area around the can was piled with rotted, smelly loose trash and the girls were munching away on leftovers.

Before anyone gets on my case with an attempt at "but they have no choice," recall my earliest entry in this blog which points to sociological surveys that prove these people choose to live this way rather than joining society and working for a living. Therefore I feel neither guilt nor shame in including them among the stupid or criminal factions which provide my blog with endless entertaining material. Bon appetit!

16 February, 2009

Never a Sucker Gives an Even Break

The last few (sunny only of course) days I've driven to work, at the corner of Fundeni (Morarilor) and Pantelimon, there are a few boys working the stoplights handing out little printed ads to motorists. They appear to be gypsies (this is not racist, there is a physiognomy just as with any other culture and ethnicity) and they are having no luck handing out their ads. It's so cold out that nobody is rolling down their windows if you were handing out money, much less spam.

There is a woman on the corner watching them with concern, whom I deduce to be their trainer, supervisor, whatever, but who is clearly dismayed at the lack of results in this effort. Between red lights, the boys mope back to her and they argue animatedly. Gestures and body language suggest they are exchanging ideas of how to be more efficient, and simultaneously their opinions of each other's ideas.

A few thoughts cross my mind as I observe this over the course of several stoplights (Bucharest traffic, I might've mentioned it). First, I recalled that this type of marketing only seems to work when the distributors are shapely young women in revealing attire. Summer also plays an important factor, where windows are much more likely to be open. Combine the heat of the season with the allure of the approaching spammer and those little slips of paper get snapped up like euros... which are also admittedly little slips of paper so the metaphor is not as dramatic as it could be. But I digress. Expecting this formula to work as well with the small substitutions of subfreezing winter and grubby apathetic future vagrants was a loss before breakfast was even drunk.

Next, it occurs to me that while my personal opinions of gypsies may be considered racist, albeit overwhelmingly shared by the populace and, not insignificantly, supported by facts, data and even the most casual observation (see my earliest blog entry), I try to give everyone a chance. And the fact here is that there appears to be at least two gypsy boys actually trying to make an honest living, and exerting a real effort for a job that's got to pay a pittance at best. This deserves my respect.

So, a few days later when I'm driving the same way to work, I see the same boys working the same intersection. My respect actually raises a notch because now I can add "perseverance" to the list of unexpected qualities before my eyes. So, this time, as they work the line of cars which mostly refuse to open their windows (it is still subfreezing after all), I am now inclined to open mine and take one for the team.

Instantly a small booklet is pushed into my hand. It is a booklet about roofing materials. I'm wondering how someone fills a whole booket with a roofing ad when the pages of the booklet begin to slide apart from each other. They are in fact unattached to each other, and they are all identical in content. What I have been handed is a stack of single-page ads.

While I'm absorbing all this, I realize the boy has been talking to me through the window. I still don't know much Romanian, but being a daily motorist in this town there are a few phrases I've learned very well, and "bani, te rog, cinci lei, domnule" is one of them.

So, let's sum up. Not only is this little bastard falsifying his success rate at his job (now obviously measured by how many papers he gives away), but he's using it as a cover for the standard tactic of begging at stoplights. Now I'm sorry to say this, but in 5 years of daily driving in this town I can absolutely put stoplight beggars into 3 distinct categories: pensioners, disabled and gypsies. Since our young entrepreneur was obviously young and hearty, only one category fit him and it seems my lesson for the day was that a leopard does not change his spots.

W.C. Fields said "never give a sucker an even break." I wonder if one becomes the sucker by trying to give an even break?

15 February, 2009

Not exactly "Baby on Board..."

Okay, I admit it - as an American, you tend to preconceive a tad when you see something like this. But in reality, the German national anthem is a good song that got a bad rap thanks to the connotations added during WWII. http://ingeb.org/Lieder/deutschl.html

I would like to believe this is an expression, admittedly highly dramatic, of simple patriotism for one's homeland and not a four-wheeled recruiter for neo-Nazis. Still, this is taking a bit of a chance. Even a historically Ameriphilic Romanian would nowadays throw a brick as likely as a cheer if I drove around with a big Old Glory in my rear window splattered with a few lines of Scott Key? My personal pick to drive home the analogy would probably be,

"Then conquer we must,
When our cause it is just,
And this be our motto,
'In God is our trust!'"

In fact, Germany and the US might be said to have an interesting similarity in that they were both transformed into planetary pariahs by 8 years' arrogance and stupidity of one man. Ours just happened 60 years later. Who says history doesn't repeat itself?

But I digress. And the above photo is probably nothing to worry about. Bucharest already has one recruiter with a monopoly on bulky, brainless, skinheaded bullies: BGS Security.

14 February, 2009

Ahuh-huh... me fix it all by myself

I leave a client meeting this morning and the car doesn't start. Not the dead battery kind of not-start, nor the out of gas kind. All the lights, fan, horn work fine. So I go to throw the shifter (it's an automatic transmission) into Neutral to push it into a better parking spot while I figure out what to do. The shifter feels wrong, it doesn't click into the places it usually does. But I finally do get it to a spot where the engine will start, and by jiggling it a bit more it lets me creep home clear across town in 1st gear.

This kind of stuff terrifies me. Not because I don't know the first thing about fixing cars, actually the opposite. I know quite a lot, but the biggest thing I know these days is how little of it I can act upon because of my circumstances. I have an American car not in America. It took two weeks to replace a busted window and while most of that time was waiting for parts, a good chunk of it was the Euro-trained metal car mechanics crash-coursing themselves on how to tear into good old American plastic. I had to turn away with nausea when I saw the first stab into the door trim with a screwdriver and hammer, and the missing pressure-fit connectors that were broken off outnumber the ones that remain. For an apparently big-ticket catastrophe like my current non-shifting, I couldn't bear to think of the National Lampoon's Vacation-esque farce I'd endure to get it fixed, not to mention the delay and cost ("How much money you got?"). Therefore, I figured I had little to lose by taking a looksee myself and see what I could see before throwing myself on anyone's mercy.

I guessed from the characteristics of the problem that it lay somewhere with the linkage connecting the shift lever to the transmission. Thanks to the wonder that is the Intarnetz, particularly a car owner's forum populated with slightly disgruntled automotive workers, I have the complete factory shop manual for my car. This showed me that the "linkage" is actually a newfangled cable setup with a plastic clip that holds the tension where it belongs.

Aha, plastic. God bless America, where nobody has a problem putting a flimsy plastic piece where a sturdy metal one should be. One bottle jack later and I was sliding myself under the car, realizing in no small way the truth of my delusion as to how much weight I've actually lost of late. Here's what I saw:

Of course, it didn't occur to me to take photos with my phone until the work was all done, but the white clip that holds the cable in the black metal bracket had slipped out of there entirely. There were two barb things at the top and bottom of the clip, which click into the two holes in the metal bracket, visible immediately above and below the clip. They are designed not to let go again unless they break. And they not only weren't broken, they had no signs of abrasion or other use. All I can guess is that the clip was never fully pushed into place to begin with, thank you American workmanship. The clip slid into place easily enough now, and while it took some leverage with a large screwdriver handle, it slid all the way in until the barbs clicked soundly into place. That clip ain't going nowhere now and the car shifts exactly as it should (and did).

Anyway, I complain but the truth is that this was worlds better than the alternative - attempting to have an American car fixed in Romania. Even the thought just gives me a shiver. But the laws of entropy being what they are, I'll have to face that music someday and must prepare myself!

- k -

13 February, 2009

Bucharest License Tag of the Day

Or, for my US kinfolk, "license plate:"
I can't get enough of this stuff. This sure fooled me, guys, how about you? Does anyone even know from what country it's trying to be? The People's Republic of Crayola? As always, what I love most about this is that while I get pulled over by every bored cop who decides I blinked the wrong way, you just know Registration Rembrandt here is scooting around town untouched by the Long Arm.

In the interests of fairness, if someone out there knows me to be ignorant of the true purpose of this and/or what our automotive artist actually seeks to accomplish, please shout!

- K -

09 February, 2009

Still haven't washed the car...

...but I came closer today than ever before because I took the day off to do things in town so I had the time. But there's never a line of less than 4 cars waiting to get into any car wash in the city and at about 15 minutes per wash, the answer for me is a big fat "fcuk that!"

So I'll keep scraping adobe off the license tags enough to read them and wait for that big heavy cleansing rain to do my work for me. Either that or any physics whizzes reading this can tell me how feasible it is to run a garden hose out my bathroom window and down 5 stories and expect any pressure out the nozzle.

27 January, 2009

Stop rubbing the car so hard?

It is said that Bucharest has two seasons of the year; dust and mud. We are firmly in mud season. The rain comes down so full of dust from the very air that the average car can become an adobe hut from just one downpour. Add to that the road splatter from the motorists in front of you (and when are there not?) and the streets become a sea of identically-colored turds on wheels, with naught but the windscreen and the license tags cleared enough to stay legal. This brings about a huge upswing in windshield-wiper usage, and the attendant squirting of cleaning fluid onto the glass, which brings me to my observation.

The next time you're driving in Bucharest, or perhaps any similar European hamlet, keep an eye out for other drivers who may be washing their windshields. Stoplights which face into the sun are probably the best places. Check out the sheer number of these cars which squirt their cleaning fluid straight up past the windshield, and clear over the car itself onto the car behind them. I kid you not, it's got to be at least half of them, if not more.

The first time I noticed this happen, I thought to myself, "huh, poor kid must have bent his washer feed tubes last time he worked on the engine or such." But then I went through a few days of those sun-facing stoplights like I mentioned above, and was flabbergasted. Nearly every car which sat there squirting, shot their payload straight over the car onto the hood of the one behind them. I am stone-cold serious and not exaggerating. I really need to get photos of this but it's a fleeting thing, like a Bigfoot sighting... over before you can hit the shutter button.

I can't even blame manufacturing standards, as this phenomenon runs through all makes of cars - from Dacias to VWs, Renault, Citroen, Toyota, and yes, even BMW. I haven't seen it happen on anything more expensive, probably because people rich enough to own them are also rich enough to bribe the mud to stay off their cars. But I digress.

I'm still working on a grand unified theory to explain this, but there are too many variables. The main one is if this is confined to Bucharest or not. All I can tell you is that this wouldn't happen in the US. If your car squirted water on the one behind you, the drops would not hit the bonnet before the driver would be on the phone to his lawyer and the summons printed and stuffed under your wipers for assault, harassment, unsolicited wetting (ever since this one succeeded against God for raining on my mom's neighbor's Hummer, the door's wide open) and of course emotional damage always gets thrown in both to the driver and his car. So the Americans make darn sure their cars squirt correctly.

No, the fact that this phenomenon spans such a range of models and makes, means there must be a common point among all of them apart from manufacture. The first suspect which springs to mind is RAR, the Romanian Auto Registry. From what I understand, no car is unleashed on the road before being inspected and approved by RAR techs. They had my car in their bay for most of the day, probably because it was, at the time, quite foreign to their eyes (more on this another time), but what I'm theorizing takes only a few seconds. Namely, as part of the "routine inspection" of all cars entering Bucharest's corral, some qualified service person simply gives the windshield feeder tubes a twist upward. I hear you ask, "For God's sake, why would they do that?" Well, I didn't say my theory was done, did I? On the list of the most well-known things, just above "water is wet" and slightly below "politicians are corrupt" is that Bucharest streets are overtaxed. The figures, as I have heard them, put the city as having to support over 2 million cars a day on streets which were designed for up to 30 horse-drawn carts. And while the horse-cart contingent has steadfastly maintained their right to the street even to this day,

the fact remains that Bucharest traffic needs to be more efficient. Since pigs will fly before the roads are redesigned, the only other option is to change the behavior of the drivers. Recent studies have revealed that the average Bucharest street is full of needlessly wasted space, up to as much as 6 centimeters between cars during rush hour (4:00 am - 11:30 pm). If these drivers were less selfish about their vast personal space and simply moved closer to each other, then more cars could fit on the same stretch of road, and this cannot help but be more efficient.

RAR to the rescue! By adjusting the windshield washer tubes of all the cars, the only way to get your own windshield wet is to get right up to the car in front of you. The laws of commonality dictate that if you need your windshield washed, then it is likely so will the driver in front of you, and the one in front of him, and so on. Thus, with just a modicum of luck and timing, the result is a neighborly cascade of faintly blue rivulets of cleansing goodness arcing from car to car, pulsing in time with the wiper blades in a drippy ballet straight out of Busby Berkeley. And no more wasted space between cars. It all seems so clear now! The historical efforts to compel society to work together for the common good have not entirely left the building, it seems. But those of the past were too ambitious, too grandiose. Now, starting with something as subtle as bent windshield washers, society is made to want to work together for each other's benefit as well as their own. From here it is only one small step to discover how many other areas of day to day life are missing mutual benefit from proximity. Surely there must be a way to tighten up all that space between people at the queues of the Post Office or the cash registers of Carrefour or Cora and derive some benefit from our newfound closeness.

Oops, sorry, that was the alarm to take my medication. Gotta go...

26 January, 2009

Bucharest Driving, no further introduction needed...

In Part 1 of what will most assuredly be a richly continuing series, I present to you a shining and all-too-common example of Bucharest motorist sensibility...
This caught my eye at the local DIY (Do It Yourself) hardware/houseware place, Brico Store. The little kiosks shown here are for storage of shopping carts, as evidenced by the few remaining carriages. In fact, there were very few carriages at the time, probably mostly because it was just before Christmas and the shopping frenzies here, while not yet as fatal as a Long Island Wal-Mart, do quite sufficient justice to the burgeoning spirit of capitalism that drives the EU's latest market economy. However, it bears mentioning that since these carriages were not the type where you have to unlock them from their chained captivity by means of a coin in a slot (which theoretically increases your incentive to properly return said carriage in order to get your coin back), it cannot be discounted that a fair number of these handy utilitarian transports have possibly taken up permanent residence in the surrounding neighborhood domiciles. But I digress.

The facts are that while the shopping cart house may have been empty, so were a significant number of normal parking spaces adjacent to it, which can even be seen in the photo. So I'd love to know what compelled our humble motorist to deem himself superior enough to naturally assume Brico Store had custom-built a covered parking space for him, their most valued customer? It was a gray cloudy day, granted, but not raining at all, so the excuse of a roof from the elements won't fly here. It's not even a particularly significant make of car, just your run-of-the-mill Opel economy job, the door of which our brainiac probably gave a good dent to from whacking it against the central crossbar of his carriage-kiosk garage. Sharp-eyed readers (yes, both of you) may note that the license tag on the Opel is not Romanian and perhaps I should be more forgiving of the stranger in a strange land who may not know our ways. To which I humbly reply: bollocks. The very fact that you read this is living proof that Bucharest contains its fair share of obnoxious foreigners who can still function quite suitably in this society. And parking, despite the impression you may get from even a moment's observation in any of the area's new mega-hyper shopping malls springing up like mushrooms in a fresh damp dungpile, is not rocket science. Put your car between the lines, how hard can it be?
Okay, maybe you're right, this is not the best city in which to pose that particular question. After all, I did say this was going to be a rich and full series, didn't I?

16 January, 2009

Budget Irish Cream

After all, what is "Irish cream" but basically whiskey, sugar and cream? Yeah, yeah, the purists and/or marketers will tell you it has to be Irish whiskey, and that there should be added flavors of chocolate, coffee, nuts, pizza, whatever to the mix. But when you're puttering about the flat on your day off and you decide you have a taste for the stuff (it happens and you know it) but the weather outside is frightful so a trip to the store is offputting, boozy beggars can't be choosers and necessity indeed gives rise to invention.

First is the question of whiskey. All respectable Budget Bachelors (or those who at least live like one) have some in a cupboard somewhere, it's part of the requirements of commanding the title. But the chances of it being genuine Oyrish are prolly just what you expect. Fear not, I've done it with any number of Scotches and even Jack Daniels and haven't been arrested yet by the Grain Police.

Next is the cream, without which Irish Cream would be a misleading sham, wouldn't it? Best is the real thing, simple sweet cream.

Living in Romania compels me to clarify: we must call cream "sweet cream" because (now keep up) around here the plain word "cream" (smantana) really means "sour cream." If you want regular fresh non-soured dairy cream, you ask for "sweet cream," or "smantana dulce." Despite the included term "sweet," this does not imply any added sugar in any cream. The nearest equivalent in nature of which I can think is in the petroleum industry where crude oil is labeled "sweet" if sulfur is not found in it or "sour" if it is. However, this is not quite analogous because said oil terminology is not biased towards sweetness or sourness; there is a fair and equal descriptive term for each. With Romanian cream, the "generic" term means sour cream, and non-sour cream gets the complex name. The implication here is that to Romanians, sour is accepted as cream's natural state, and non-sour is a novelty, if not an aberration, that you need to ask for special, by a term that isn't even accurate, at that. This reminds me of how I also hear the word "castraveti" used to describe pickles almost as often as to describe fresh cucumbers. Again, the state of being sour appears considered not particularly different from ordinary, to the possible extent that sour IS considered ordinary and non-sour is special. It gets downright thoughtful if you dare to extrapolate this trend... is "sour" considered the norm over "sweet" in other areas of life here? Say, not just foodstuffs but in more behavioral areas? Wouldn't it just completely explain the attitudes one gets from the average Bucharest shop staffer, ministry drone, motorist, etc?

But I digress.

Sweet (fresh, non-soured, but without added sweeteners) cream is certainly the truest ingredient for your homemade Irish cream. But you have to work in your own sweetener (ironic after all this etymology) and I suppose you could heat the cream til sugar melts in it and then wait for it to cool, or just stir it in cold til your hand falls off. But all respectable Budget Bachelors (or those who at least live like one) are not only known for being frugal, but lazy as well, and like to find the least effort necessary to get the best results. I found mine by accident after a party for which I made homemade whipped cream. In this case, "homemade" meant running an electric hand mixer through a pre-mixed whipping cream which already contained cream and sugar mixed together. Granted, it also contains gelatins to stabilize and thicken the whipped results, but it's not like it's poison or anything. Bit of extra protein in fact. Anyway, after said party I had a bit of unused whipping cream left in the container, roughly about the same as the amount of Chivas in a similarly post-party bottle. Too little of either to do anyone any good, so I did what I usually do in these cases... pour them together and see what happens.

The result, a surprisingly passable Bailey's wannabe. To my palate, it actually seemed a bit more "honest" somehow than the commercial stuff, maybe from no added third-party flavors like nuts, cocoa, etc. The sugar in the whipping cream was just the right amount, a bit less than Baileys which again, to me, was a good thing as Bailey's runs at roughly one cavity per shotglass. Consistency was spot on, not too thick or thin. I categorized it as "something I'd do again" and in fact I have. Today. Right now. Day off, you see. I usually do something ill-advised on my days off anyway, so this fits in. Not so much that I've once again mixed up my own Irish Cream, but that I was so impressed by it (or at least, it was so potent) that I was compelled to get online, and after roughly the last 2 years, finally research blogging sites and software before landing here to set up a blog just so I could write about it.

So, welcome to Ken's long, long overdue blog. Well, I actually did it once before on MySpace but it seemed very mis-targeted for my needs. Hopefully this will be better. So far so good. Can't promise the rest of my stuff will be this cohesive in future... apparently I may tend to ramble.

- K -