I Am That Ugly American (Redeux)

I Am That Ugly American (Redeux)

Back when I used to write for a website called Reality TV Talk, I posted an article entitled “I Am That Ugly American.” Originally, the article was part of a series of recaps I was writing in 2011 for the fourteenth season of The Amazing Race. It was one of my favorite pieces and I have referenced it several times over the past several years as it deals with my personal lack of desire for foreign travel, a preference that is challenged time and time again. This week I wanted to share that article with you.  Please note, the context article has been edited to bring it up to date and allow it to stand on its own (hence the term “Redeux). Enjoy!

I Am That Ugly American

My wife Deborah and I met over a mutual interest in The Amazing Race and when we began dating we both thought it would be great to compete on TAR as a team. However, once we sat down and really thought it through we came to the conclusion that that may not be such a good idea. For Deb the reason was simple: she refuses to bungee jump, parachute, travel at high speeds on contraptions such as roller coasters or perform any other activity for which medals are awarded at the X-Games. My reasons were less obvious and became apparent slowly over the course of our early years of dating.

I have never been much of a traveler. I have always preferred to save myself the trouble of vacation planning, not to mention the expense, and simply just stay close to home. That doesn’t mean I never went anywhere. It just meant that travel was not in my top 10 things to do. Deborah is just the opposite. She loves traveling, and not just the trip itself, but the planning as well. Because of this, I have probably traveled to more places in the first three years of our relationship than I have in my entire life up to that point. I don’t mind traveling within the United States, but certain events occurred in those early dating years that suggested that International Travel may not be my cup of tea.

One event didn’t even require me to leave the country. Deb and I went took a trip to Charleston, SC. One night we ate at a French restaurant named 39 Rue de Jean. The name 39 Rue de Jean is basically it’s address, 39 John Street, made to sound all fancy and French-like. It’s website described itself as “a refined French cafe and bar offering the best in classic Brasserie cuisine.” The point is, this is the most authentic, fanciest French Restaurant I had ever been in. In fact, I think the only other French restaurant I have ever been in was the France pavilion at Epcot, Walt Disney World.

I enjoy French food and could potentially eat it at every meal. I could eat their toast for breakfast, their fries for lunch and pour their dressing over my evening salad. But now I had a chance to sample some real French cuisine.

For starters, when you think of French dining you think of fine wines and 39 Rue de Jean had their share, including a Bordeaux, Chateau Haut Peyruguet; a Chablis, Boucard Fourchame Chardonnay; a Picpoul de Pinet, Beaulieu; and a Cotes de Provence, Domaine Houchart. Yeah. I didn’t have clue. Considering that, and the fact that the average cost per bottle was $50, I opted for a good old American Budweiser. Hold the glass, please. I’ll drink it straight from the bottle.

Next was the entre. On 39 Rue de Jean’s menu one could find such dishes as Salmon Bearnaise, Chicken Francaise, Shrimp Provencal, Coq Au Vin and more. I ordered the Brasserie Burger which was ground beef prepared to my specifications and served with cheddar cheese, onions, tomatoes and lettuce on a piece of bread baked specifically to hold these items together. This was served with frites, which are strips of potatoes cooked in oil until they are a light golden brown. In other words, I ordered a cheeseburger, fries and a bottle of beer. I got all done up to go out to a refined French cafe only to order the same thing I order at Applebee’s. Point is, I don’t need to spend eight to ten hours on a plane and fork out outrageous amounts of money only to eat the same food I can get a couple of blocks from my house.

On a side note, I must tell you about the appetizer Deb and I ordered. It was called the Plateau de Fromage. It sounded good, an assortment of appetizers from around the world inspired by the familiar travel guides. That’s when Deb informed me that Frommers wrote the travel guides. This was Fromage, which was French for cheese. Not a problem as I love cheese, as well.

The Cheese Plate offered five varieties of cheese and was accompanied by a short description of each. The first cheese was a Belletoile, which is “bold in flavor” and “bloomy”. Bloomy? I have no idea what a “bloomy” taste is. I’m guessing it’s supposed to taste like roses or something?

Next on the list was the Brescianella Stagionata which was “rich in flavor with grassy overtones.” I’m not particularly fond of grassy undertones, let alone grassy overtones, so I wasn’t sure if this was going to be a cheese for me. Who would be attracted to grassy overtones anyway? A cow? It was then that I began to wonder if the taste of the cheese depended on the cow’s diet. Bessie eats a lot of daisies and therefore her milk is used for the bloomy Belletoile, while Elsie, on the other hand, sticks to a more traditional diet of plain grass, resulting in a milk perfect for the Stagionata.

One particular cheese, the Sora, is a fine example of how it’s sometimes better not to know what you are eating. This particular cheese had a “firm, buttery texture with an indigenous mold.” I think you see what I mean.

So my lack of enthusiasm for other cultures while in the States is obvious. How well do I handle actually leaving the country? Well, I’ll tell you. It’s not like I’ve never been to another country. I’ve gone to the Bahamas on several occasions, but that doesn’t really count because the Bahamas is practically the United States with an accent. And then there was the time I drove through Miami. But other than that I have never traveled abroad. That changed when Deborah and I took a cruise that featured a stop in Cozumel, Mexico.

The entire time in port was six hours, less time than the average workday. Yet, it was six of the most stressful hours of my life. The first mistake I made was trying to save money by not signing up for one of the cruise sponsored tours. Instead, Deb, myself and another couple from the cruise were going to try to find a cheaper tour to the ruins once we left the boat. As it turns out we were separated from our friends and, after a few miscalculated events, we found ourselves on a ferry to the mainland. The best way to describe what happened next was that I had a major meltdown.

I was in a country I didn’t know, surrounded by people who I couldn’t understand, with no real idea where I was going or what I was going to do once I got there. I panicked. What if we miss the returning ferry? Are we spending too much money? Do we have enough cash on us? Can we even use American money? What if I do something wrong and get thrown in a Mexican prison? Do they cane people in Mexico? Why am I here?

(Deborah later told me she’d never seen me so out of control before.)

On the mainland, we made a few inquiries and realized we had no time to do anything other than go to a restaurant and order a few drinks and nachos. However, I couldn’t just sit back and enjoy. Without a clear grasp of the exchange rate I was too busy trying to figure out how much we were spending and what I needed to tip. (Do they even tip in Mexico? What if I calculate wrong and don’t leave enough? Will they send Paco the Bull after me to break my legs?)

When it came time to make the return ferry ride the ticket lady informed me that they do not accept credit cards (unlike the ticket booth on the other side where we purchased our tickets to get to the mainland). We had to use most of our available cash to buy our tickets and now I worried about having the proper change for the taxi ride back to port. By the end of our stop I was shoving people out the way in my mad dash to reboard the cruise ship. Deborah stated the obvious later when she said I would be a mess on The Amazing Race.

I have nothing against other cultures or their traditions. I’m sure the world is full of interesting and exotic places. I just look at it this way. I don’t tell people they need to come to the United States and, in return, I don’t want people telling me that I need to visit other countries. I find no practical benefit in leaving the U. S.. It won’t improve my health, raise my income, make me live longer, put food on my table and clothes on my back, give me better gas mileage or make my teeth whiter. No one’s going to lock me up or fine me for staying put in my little part of the world. Other people might find enjoyment in world travel and that’s fine. Travel away. Just leave me to be happy in my own little world where I know where things are, how much they cost and I can communicate with my neighbor. Yeah, I wouldn’t be long on the Amazing Race before I turned into that “Ugly American.”

Quick Shots for 10/13/2017

Quick Shots for 10/13/2017

Not a lot happened this week that I feel needs mentioning, but I hated to let a Friday pass by without posting something, so here are two quick thoughts.

Hats off to Saturday Night Live for their cold opener this past weekend. Jason Aldean, the country artist who was performing on stage with the Las Vegas shooting began, delivered a message of hope and support for the victims of the shooting, as well as the nation. He then performed “I Won’t Back Down.” Not only was the song a rallying cry, but it also served as a tribute to its original singer Tom Petty, who passed away earlier last week. Furthermore, the performance was a callback to 2001 when Petty sung “I Won’t Back Down” during a benefit concert to help victims of the 9/11 attacks. Layer upon layer. Once again, kudos to everyone at SNL involved in developing this opening and making it happen.

Apparently, I write in Hungarian. Or at least Twitter thinks I do. This week I posted a tweet promoting my latest gameplay video that was titled “Beetlepig, Beetlepig, Beetlepig.” Later, when I checked my Twitter feed, I noticed there was a link associated with that particular tweet asking if I wanted to “translate from Hungarian.” “What the heck,” I thought and gave it a try. Needless to say, Bing couldn’t translate the word Beetlepig.

Fran Bow Part 4 – “Beetlepig, Beetlepig, Beetlepig”

Fran Bow Part 4 – “Beetlepig, Beetlepig, Beetlepig”

We continue October “Creepy-Fest” with part 4 of my Fran Bow playthrough. This is a continuation of a series that I am posting on the Half Air YouTube channel. If you wish to catch up before watching, you can do so by checking out my Fran Bow playlist.

A quick word of caution about this video, Fran Bow is a horror game and several of the themes and graphics are dark and, at times, a bit gruesome. Please consider this before watching.


We Suck At Grey

We Suck At Grey

America likes to take sides. If I am talking abouts sports, games or some other competition, that would be okay. But I’m not. I’m talking about life. For years now it appears that we are more and more becoming a nation of us and them, and it’s only gotten worse in the past several months. Every week there is another event or news story that causes people to dig in and man their battle stations. One recent event got me to thinking about what the core cause of the problem is and how we might begin to change it. Of course, the event I’m talking about are the restrictions regarding wearing white after Labor Day.*

I believe in absolute truth. Karen has been invited to her sister Joan’s birthday party. Karen’s favorite outfit is mainly white. Joan’s party is late in September. These are absolute truths. What is relative is how we relate to and make decisions regarding these truths and plan our lives around them. It is very easy to think in black and white. Black and white is simple. Black and white can often be summed up in a single sentence. (“Don’t wear white after Labor Day,” or “That rule is an outdated etiquette intended to keep the lower class in their place, and therefore should no longer be followed.”)

Grey, on the other hand, is complicated. Grey has to account for a lot of variables and usually needs considerably more explanation. (“While it is preferable that white not be worn after Labor Day, if you do wear white it should never cover more than 40% of your overall outfit. Furthermore, this only applies to formal events, such as dinner parties and going to the theater. Children under the age of 16 are exempt from this rule, as well as anyone who is required to wear a standard uniform for their job, such as nurses, police officers and the military. Undergarment color is left to the discretion of the wearer.”)

Besides being complicated, grey often involves compromise. People resist compromise because it is often wrongfully equated with weakness. A strong person would have held his ground and not given in. Additionally, if through compromise you have to alter your position (you can only wear 30% white instead of 40%), that means you may have been wrong the first time. If there’s one thing that worse than bankruptcy, cancer, and fruitcakes combined it’s being wrong. In fact, some people even go so far as to defend something they question rather than admit they are wrong and change their mind.

We, as a nation, are great at black and white. We, however, suck at grey. This is unfortunate because it is within the grey that progress can be made we can begin to come together emotionally, socially and politically. Another saying that is often repeated by success gurus is “Goals are set in stone, plans are made in sand.” The grey is the sand that can be easily moved and shaped in a manner that helps you reach the goal. What we end up doing, however, is turn the sand into concrete by making the plans, or the means of reaching the goal, the black and white issue that is not up for compromise. Going back to our “wearing white” analogy, if Joan held firm on the plan to “never wear white after Labor Day,” her goal of having her sister Karen (clad in white) at her party might never be realized. As a result, family relations might be strained and Joan would never receive those expensive Louboutin high-heels Karen purchased as a gift. Joan may have succeeded in upholding her plan, but she ultimately failed at reaching her goal.

Working through the grey is not easy, I’ll admit. On several occasions, I have held my ground longer than I should have simply because I didn’t want to admit I was wrong. Furthermore, if this is difficult in a one on one or small group setting, it might be darn near impossible on the national level. That being said, there are some steps we can take to begin bringing us together, at least in our personal and business lives.

First, approach every issue knowing there is more than one solution. Furthermore, while your solution may work, it might still need some refinement or simply be chucked altogether for a better solution. (Prov. 12:15) Next, we need to listen to what others are saying. To be clear, listening is not hearing. It is processing and understanding the words that are being spoken. (Prov. 18:13, James 1:19) A good way to begin listening is to stop thinking about your own opinion while someone else is expressing theirs. (Prov. 18:2) Just these two steps alone are a good place to start to break through the barriers.

The most important step, however, is to remember what the goal actually is. Most of us have the same goals: preservation of life; respect for humanity; food to eat, clothes to wear, and a place to live; a safe and healthy community and environment. As long as we have the same goals or desired outcomes, we are on the same side and we can make progress. However, if the means of reaching the outcome ever becomes the goal instead of the outcome itself, then progress is in danger of halting. If we are ever going to keep moving forward and have any hopes of solving our problems, then we, as individuals and a nation, need to stop thinking in black and white and start exploring the various shades of grey.

Yes, I went there.

*Of course, I am not talking about wearing white after Labor Day, but I’m smart enough not to discuss any one particular issue or take any sides, lest that issue distracts from the point I am trying to make.

Quick Shots for 10/06/2017

Quick Shots for 10/06/2017

A group has received approval and is currently raising money to erect a statue near the Washington Monument in D.C.. Its purpose is to help promote women’s equality. This doesn’t seem like a bad idea until you realize the statue that, according to the sculptor, is intended to “combat a culture that increasingly dehumanizes women and sexualizes the female form” is actually a 45-foot tall naked woman. (Isaiah 5:20)

This week I fell victim to one of a gamer’s greatest fears; I lost approximately two years worth of progress in a video game. The game in question is a match 3 game that I play on my Windows tablet. The game would not progress beyond the loading screen. I restarted a couple of times to no avail. Knowing I had backups of the save file, I uninstalled and reinstalled the game and replayed the first level. After restoring the backup I tried the game again. First, it wouldn’t load. Then a restart still had me on the first level. I tried several different backups but had the same results.

I suspect what happened was the game had an update that was incompatible with the old save files. I have no proof that is what happened and it doesn’t make sense that a developer would do such a thing intentionally. If that is the case, then I guess there is hope that it might be fixed in the future and I’ll just have to wait. Luckily, this was just a casual game to kill some time and not a hundred hour open world RPG. In the end, it’s not that big a deal . . . but it’s still frustrating.

On Monday I told you about a walking app called Zombies, Run!. In addition to walking, I also like to work out to videos when I can’t (or don’t want to) go outside. There are several free, high-quality channels on YouTube and one of my favorites is Sean Vigue Fitness.

Sean’s delivery is casual, lighthearted and fun, but his workouts are serious stuff. He covers a variety of exercise types and has routines ranging from beginner to extreme (but even the beginner workouts I’ve tried have given me a run for my money). Below I posted one of Sean’s standing yoga workouts for you to sample.

App Review: Zombies, Run!

App Review: Zombies, Run!

My wife and I are certainly no health buffs. Still, we try to take care of our bodies and sometimes do a little extra to live a little healthier or shed some pounds. For almost a year now we have sorta been doing the South Beach diet. “Sorta” means we started out strong, nearly completing Phase 1 without a hitch, moved on to Phase 2 and remained consistent for several weeks. Needless to say, as the months went by our meal plans moved further and further away from a strict South Beach menu. That doesn’t mean we’ve totally fallen off the wagon. There are still several good habits we have maintained and we are still dropping weight, or at least maintaining and not gaining it back. We’re just progressing much, much slower than if we followed the diet more consistently.

Anyone who is trying to lose weight knows (or should know) that good eating alone isn’t enough. Sure, it’s beneficial and you might even ultimately reach your goal. However, if you can include some type of exercise your progress will be much improved. At best, when combined with a good diet, you lose weight faster. At worst, it can help offset those days when you eat more than you should and keep you from gaining. Although it’s difficult for me to find the time, I do try to exercise when I can. My main form of exercise is walking and jogging. Some people walk or jog with no assistance. Other listen to music. Still, other use apps on their phone to help motivate them. The app that I like to use is Zombies, Run! from Six to Start.

Zombies, Run! motivates through the use of storytelling. The app pairs with your favorite music player and every so often interrupts the music with a segment of the story that is fully dramatized with voice actors and sound effects. You play the role of Runner 5, a member of Abel Township, an outpost in the middle of a zombie apocalypse. Your job is to go on missions to find supplies, scout out the area or perform other tasks while avoiding the living dead. As the story unfolds you meet different residents of Abel Township, learn their stories, encounter enemies, find out facts about why people are turning into zombies and try to find a way to stop the apocalypse. Typically, each mission is an exercise session, or you can play multiple sessions if you tend to take longer walks/runs. The length of each mission can be customized and you can use the story cues, like I do, to dictate your pacing. When the action is low you walk or jog and when the action picks up (i.e. zombies are closing in) you speed up your pace. If you want additional motivation you can turn on chase mode. In chase mode, there will be several times during your session where you will be chased by a horde of undead creatures. During these chases, you must pick up your pace by a percentage that you program. If you drop below that pace before time is up you are caught and lose some of the supplies you have gathered. Currently, Zombies, Run! includes six seasons that contain over 250 missions total.

While the story mode is great, there are other ways you can exercise using Zombies, Run!. Some other options include Airdrop, where you pick a point in the real world to run to and the program creates a story to accompany you; Supply runs that allow you to run for an unlimited amount of time and gather supplies; Interval Training that changes the pace up during your session; race training from 5K up to full marathon; and Radio Abel which lets you listen to the Abel Township radio station as you work out. The app even includes a town building game that lets you expand Abel Township using all the supplies you collected during your real world runs. Zombies, Run! runs on both IOS and Android mobile devices and you can install and run the first five missions for free. After that, you unlock one new mission every 5 days. If you outpace that or wish to have access to the additional exercise options I mentioned above, you can subscribe monthly or yearly (yearly is the better value after six months).

I really enjoy the story and the acting is very well done. It’s like listening to a radio play while you exercise. One of my favorite missions involved me running to several toy and bookstores in town while avoiding zombies, all for the purpose of collecting rulebooks, dice, miniatures, and paints for a D&D style role-playing game that my fellow townsfolk were interested in playing. Like the diet, I’ve slacked a bit the past several months with my exercise. However, with October here, it’s probably a good time to jump back into Zombie’s, Run! and try to get fit again. We’ll see how that goes.

(Note: Neither I nor Half Air received any compensation from Six to Start to publish this review. I just like the app and wanted to share it with you.)

Quick Shots For 09/29/2017

Quick Shots For 09/29/2017

I realize hotels want conference rooms that are as versatile as possible and adjustable to various sizes in order to accommodate multiple groups at one time and make more money by booking consecutive meetings. However, those adjustable dividing walls are really a joke. All they do is block what is going on in the adjacent meeting room from view. You can still hear everything. All this accomplishes is to distract everyone from their own meeting because they are too curious about what is happening just beyond the partition.

When I used to record news segments for the Toddcast 2.0 podcast, I had a couple of recurring themes that kept popping up. They were Tetris and poop. (Unfortunately, I never found that one perfect story that combined the two.) Well, it appears that Half Air has a recurring theme, as well: Amazon.

This past week both my wife and I received notifications from the online sales giant advertising their Amazon Treasure Truck. From what I can deduce, the Treasure Truck offers special prices on certain items, stops at various locations around town and anyone who comes up to the truck can get that product at that price. As an Amazon member, you may sign up for notifications telling you where the truck is going to be and what they have to offer. Is this an effective way for Amazon to sell items and gain brand recognition? I really have no idea, but I do have a suggestion. Whether or not this venture is successful, perhaps Amazon can do even better if the Treasure Truck played children’s jingles as it drove down the road and offered free Bomb Pops with every order.

I read an article this week about an organization in California that wants to put cancer warnings on coffee products. Many experts say that the amount of the questionable chemical that is actually present in coffee is so small that it poses no real threat. I’m not here to make any judgments about who is right or wrong, but, depending on who you talk to, it does seem like everything these days contains something that has the potential to cause cancer. And I’m not just speaking about man-made products. This applies to nature, as well. For instance, light from the Sun can cause Melanoma. We can’t change the composition of sunlight, and putting a big warning label on the Sun would be costly, impractical, and, I suspect, impossible. I say we cut to the chase and just go straight to the source. We should contact God and request that He prints the following on every sperm and egg: “Warning: Life can cause cancer.”

What’s Coming Up on Half Air Plays:

Next month is October, the time when everyone has fun experiencing things that are creepy, spooky and scary. Half Air Plays will be no exception. I am planning on playing several games that either have a creepy theme or involve nightmarish monsters (mostly zombies). So watch the site or subscribe to the Half Air YouTube channel to join me every Wednesday for all the fun.

Was Groundhog Day The First Successful Video Game Movie?

Was Groundhog Day The First Successful Video Game Movie?

The Curse of the Video Game Movie. If you are a gamer I’m sure you have heard of it. It basically states that no one has ever made a good movie based on a video game. I’m not as pessimistic as some. I particularly enjoyed the Resident Evil series, Assassin’s Creed, and the first Tomb Raider movie (I did not see the sequel.) But then you have Super Mario Bros., Mortal Kombat, Wing Commander, and DOA:Dead or Alive, which famously has a scene where one of the main characters disables two guards and an agent while putting on her bra. However, I would argue that there was at least one video game movie that received wide acclaim and was enjoyed by most everyone who saw it. That movie would be Groundhog Day. Okay, I’ll admit, I’m cheating a bit as Groundhog Day is not based on a video game IP. However, I contend that, when you really think about it, the experience of watching that movie is similar to the experience one has playing a video game.

In the movie Groundhog Day Bill Murray plays a weatherman who lives the same day over and over again, with each day being an opportunity to learn from his mistakes, take different approaches to overcome challenges, and eventually move closer to his ultimate goal of being a better person. Isn’t this pretty much what we do when we play a video game? We move forward in the game until we reach a fail point, analyze what went wrong, then try again either with improved skills or a different approach. This correlation is most obvious when playing a story-based game but also applies to skill-based games where you repeat the same level until you reach the designated goal.

To truly make the video game comparison, it should be noted that modern computer or console games are not the best archetypes. These games utilize save points which only require you to return to a certain point, possibly right before you fail, and try again. In the movie, this would equate to Bill Murray trying to steal the bag of money from the armored car, getting caught by the guards, then jumping back to a moment ten minutes earlier and trying again. That is not what happens. Murray has to go all the way back to when he wakes up, relive the entire day up to that point before he can make another attempt. A better comparison would be coin-operated arcade boxes and more recent rogue-likes. If Mario lost his final life on level 10 of Donkey Kong, you had to start all the way back on level one with your next quarter. You didn’t have the luxury of skipping straight to level 10.

Groundhog Day certainly isn’t the only movie that features the concept of reliving the same day over and over again. If we continue the video game analogy, this means several game genres are represented by these movies. Groundhog Day would be classified as your typical walking simulator or adventure. Tom Cruise’s Edge of Tomorrow would qualify as a sci-fi shooter. Before I Fall is the indie offering with the social message. The upcoming Happy Death Day falls into the horror category. Finally, Hallmark Channel’s 12 Dates of Christmas would be your typical dating sim.

Calling Groundhog Day a video game movie might be a stretch, I’ll admit. Still, the comparison is there. The structure of many video games is a story that we are playing through. To get to the end of that story we need to repeat the same “scenes” over and over again until we get it right. Only then can we find out the ending of the story. So next time you are lamenting the fact that there seems to be no good video game movies, try watching a movie that features a time loop and pretend that you are watching a video game movie. Trust me, it’s exactly the same thing.