Edward Hopper – Diner – I wish that I could paint…not. This fountain set up was in the back of an antique store in Oakland, Maryland. Ha! Old fashioned. Maybe it was an old “Five and Dime” at one point. Right now, it’s old and quaint. The staff were not wearing period costumes. That would have been cool. There’s one in Damarascotta, Maine. And the soda jerks dress to match. But Maine’s a long way to go from here. Hmmm. It was a girl who waited on us in Maine. What’s the female equivalent to a soda jerk?
A long long time ago… I saw this image in a travel brochure. It was a winter view of the falls with ice and snow and … oh my! It has been on my bucket list of images. Remember I’m a photo opportunist at heart. So it was not OCD enough for me to make a special trip. I was just keeping the image on my list. The point is to shoot the image yourself. Otherwise the internet will provide you with far better shots than I got. I did not hike down to the ideal location to capture the image. My OCD does not extend forever. I could have done better. I wonder why I did not go further. Time was limited. It was slippery. But, I was there, And, this is my shot. Done.
Not Holland. Not quaint. I came across a gallery painting which the artist had labeled “Change.” Across rural America, there are more and more windmills. Renewable energy. Will tourists be excited to photograph them someday? I really did like going across Holland. Ah, wooden shoes…they won’t be fashionable any time soon? Technically correct, they are windmills. Picturesque, they ain’t.
After the first snow of the year, we were headed over to Boulder. It was a nice idyllic scene. I suppose a panorama would be more dramatic. I apologize. I’m a casual photographer. So, I do not travel with a tripod and wait all day for the ideal conditions. Shoot and scoot. It keeps peace with my travel companions too. I’m quite good at shooting while driving. Kids, don’t try this at home…
We stay in Airbnb now. Rooms for less with a whole lot more charm. They are all different. Neighborhoods and accommodations vary a lot. Some are more interesting. Some are a bit scary. In this particular place the owner left her cats behind and we were tasked with feeding them. No problem. I can do this. I have cat experience. They were friendly and curious and tried to get outside. The sign at the door warned – no matter how much they beg, do not let them out!
It’s odd. I’m in Denver. Don’t ask. I won’t tell you why unless you already know. Dave messaged. He needed advice. He’s in Yosemite. He hiked to the top. El Capitan is in the distance. It’s the back side. My usual picture of the place is from the front. There’s a waterfall – to the right. We ended up in the Denver Art Museum. And wandering through…look! We found the same scene – and it was the reverse side. Neat! I was so struck by the coincidence I told the Chinese tourists passing by me. And they commented they were puzzled because they had visited but not the back side. And I have never visited. I guess I should. It’s on my list. But it probably won’t be too soon.
…yeah, and kids don’t try this at home.
The term high plains comes to mind. It is around here somewhere. Probably not here but it is a term that sounds good. It’s flat. My GPS shows the road stretching straight due west. The sun does not exactly set due west either. I guess that’s another misconception. Grain silos dot the landscape. They are tall majestic structures that interrupt the skyline like trees or mountains if there were any around here. There aren’t. As the sun sets you take what you can get. I shot from my car window on the go way over the speed limit and my spiffy point and shoot did what it was supposed to do. Am I good or am I good?
Imagine (nightmare) turning your pet loose on the tarmac of the Jeddah airport. At the terminal you are taken by bus and walk the tarmac upstairs to board. I can tell you the process. I know the steps. And at the very last, just before the accept your precious pet, there will be one last paper to file or fill or a stamp you failed to attain. Imagine all of that and trying to get you and your tech out of the country? I was warned and luckily did not try it. Thank goodness!
Here’s what I know. US Customs will accept your pet without quarantine if certain steps are followed. There are forms to be obtained. And there are state forms needed. There is a website and for $15 you can get the forms. Or you can get them direct but you might miss a form. You need a health certificate from a Saudi vet. The pet needs a chip. A rabies vaccine must be administered at least 30 days in advance. The airline requires specific travel crates. The Department of Agriculture must examine and approve the export one week before the flight. You must visit airline cargo one day in advance of travel and be approved. You go to the airport early on the day of the flight and check your pet at the check-in counter. Good luck! There are simply too many moving parts. Anyone, anywhere along the line can foul up the whole process. I’m glad I gave up. I just imagined opening the travel crates on the tarmac and that was enough.
Traumatic!? You bet. I released Casi and Lulu on Thursday afternoon. My flight was at 6AM Friday. I was not about to chase two cats at 2AM before I left for the airport. I nudged Casi at the door and off she went. I never saw her again. She seemed a bit surprised but more than willing to brave the heat of Jeddah. Lulu left me shaking. She was not going. She did not understand. And she fought me tooth and claw. It was one of the saddest things I ever did. I caught her up in a big towel and got her out the door. That evening she peered at me from the bushes but would not come near. The hardest thing was not being able to explain that I was leaving. At least she’s safe in the compound. I hope.
There’s weather again. Seasons! Rain! Yes! After four years of scorching sun and no rain, I’m back and with someone who obsesses over the weather forecast. It’s refreshing to factor in the weather into my plans. I nearly did not make the flight. The luggage story was the end. That was pretty much the prelude to closing the plane doors. In order to leave there is a list: plane ticket, exit visa, close your bank account, turn off your phone, hand in your work card – iqama. There is a dance. It’s choreographed so that the steps are defined. The exit visa and ticket are last. You get a ticket after you have a visa. You need to hand in your iqama to get your visa. But you need the iqama at the bank to take your money. Read slowly. You mess up and you are not leaving. Before that the hospital has its own list and each item requires a signature and a stamp. Yes! A stamp! Go figure: the mailroom, the library, security, etc., etc. Finally, there is a survey: did you enjoy your stay, and would you come back to work? I guess the wrong answer and you stay longer. Say nothing, do nothing to rock the boat. Of course, it was great. “Frosted flakes!!”
Can I make this story short? Yes, I got out. Stop reading here.
No one tells you the exact sequence. You sort of puzzle things out. There is an end of service pay mandated by the government. Calculations are made. Then the money is transferred to your bank account. The first week was haj – September 9 to 14. Banks and the government are closed. Don’t ask. Shutdown, closed, just stopped for five days plus the weekend on either end. I dove. Nice. I was on paid leave. Ok, but I’d rather have been home.
The new Saudi week starts on Sunday. I have till Friday to complete business and get on the plane. Monday – maybe the money will be in by Wednesday. It’s close but doable. Monday, the travel office tried to give me a ticket for Friday. Nope, no final exit visa. That comes after the bank is closed. Tuesday waiting. I went to stare at the finance lady who said Wednesday maybe Thursday. No! It has to be Wednesday! I received a helpless smile. She said she was trying. Wednesday morning, the ticket office called me in to take a ticket for Friday. They could not wait longer or it would be next week. Is it a joke? Finance says that they need a signature from housing. What! WTF! I already have all my stamps and signatures! Sorry, it won’t take long. Surreal? I need an entry exit visa. Get that and then transfer money from Saudi to NY by internet banking. Nope! I have to take a final exit visa. Rules! Shit. No bending the rules! I went up the line to the Deputy CEO. He mumbled that something would be done. So far, nada, nothing! It’s noon. I had just come from the bank. They were kind enough to volunteer that Thursday was Saudi National Day! That is the equivalent of Fourth of July here. No government or banking – it’s a national holiday! You’re kidding right!? At that moment, my money from the hospital hits the bank and I receive the text message. I cannot get to and from the bank in time for the government office to go and get an exit visa. There’s not enough time. Before a holiday everyone quits early. Does this country function? Not like anywhere normal, for sure! Solution? There’s a bank near the hospital. I rush over, break traffic laws, run red lights, cut off other cars and get there to the sound of the local mosques blaring out “prayer time.” Closed for 40 minutes, I was screwed! Sure enough the doors were locked and I was out of luck. Shit! An old Saudi man came and pounded the door. He was not waiting. I followed him in the back door. Cheated one more time. I had to check off a box for withdrawing so much money. “Which works?” I asked the teller.
“Medical,” he said. I figured, “mental” by way of insanity worked for me. Back to the hospital. Sami, government relations shook his head. Maybe, maybe not. What did he care? He was not staying an extra week. But… after a long pause on the phone several hours later… he reported… success! Visa, bank, ticket – done. Priceless! My phone is still not settled. The never did cut off my internet when they threatened. The bill is unpaid. I’m in the US and receive Arabic texts about my bill. Can’t read ‘em. Don’t need ‘em. Hey! I got weather again!
I’m out. On the plane. The door closed and I got out of Saudi. Happy! Yup! I was surrounded by African pilgrims for the ride home. Maybe I have MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome). They coughed front and back of me all the damn way home. I got it about two days later. Stress lowers your immune system. I have been fighting a vicious cold for two weeks. It’s not fatal. And it’s probably not MERS. These very nice ladies posed for each other during the latter part of the flight. They did not even notice that I stuck my camera up and shot them in their finery. You would have to say it was worth the trip. The ladies would disappear into the tiny restroom for lengthy makeovers. Why dress to return home? Who knows? I will always remember them by this image and the vicious cold they shared with me.