Your leaking thatched hut during the restoration of a pre-Enlightenment state.


Hello, my name is Judas Gutenberg and this is my blaag (pronounced as you would the vomit noise "hyroop-bleuach").


decay & ruin
Biosphere II
dead malls
Irving housing

got that wrong

appropriate tech
Arduino μcontrollers
Backwoods Home
Fractal antenna

fun social media stuff

(nobody does!)

Like my brownhouse:
   business class in Port Elizabeth
Friday, April 11 2003

setting: Addo Elephant National Park, Eastern Cape, South Africa

Today was the day that we began our trip back to the United States. Before leaving Addo, though, we went for another drive on the range. One has to be unlucky not to see elephants at Addo, but somehow we didn't see any. Instead we saw a variety of other animals: warthogs, ostriches, zebras, Red Hartebeests, a jackal, a large troop of Vervet Monkeys, and a colony of Meerkats. The latter blissfully ignored us as they foraged, all save one, the lookout, who stood on his hind feet and surveyed the range for danger.
We drove back to Port Elizabeth without incident, dropped off our rental car, and transferred all of our luggage (now considerably more than when we'd arrived from London) to a cart. Gretchen bought a big black duffel bag in the Port Elizabeth airport. As usual, she steered clear of major multinational brands and went for obscure labels, in this case "Picasso." Unfortunately, the zippers showed signs of disintegration after only a single use.
For some reason we had the privilege of using the business-class lounge in the Port Elizabeth airport. In the musty smoking terrarium they had a free internet terminal for Gretchen to check her email on. I also got a chance to catch up on articles at I was unfamiliar-but-delighted with the best perk of business-class, the open bar, and proceeded to make myself a series of "kiltlifters" (I just made that term up - it's coffee with a hearty splash of scotch). Meanwhile CNN, or something damn similar to it, blared from a suspended teevee monitor. It didn't waste our time with non-Iraq-related-news.
On the flight to Johannesburg, I found myself sitting between Gretchen and a white businessman. Unlike most random strangers on airplanes, this guy wanted to chat. He talked cheerily about pleasant experiences throughout the United States and in various parts of the world. Recognizing that I was American, he thought he'd do the uncontroversial thing and say something good about how Bush has handled things in Iraq. I shook my head and said, "I don't know, that story is yet to be told. I really wish our country could find a way to act in the world that doesn't make everyone angry at us." He couldn't really argue with that. Later the conversation drifted to the demise of Apartheid and the emergence of the New South Africa. As a successful businessman, he expressed happiness with the changes, though he said he had plenty of friends who were still mired in the past.
When we landed in Johannesburg, Dina was there to pick us up. She took us all the way back to her place even though our layover was only a few hours.

Throughout Johannesburg, Gretchen and I kept noticing billboards bearing the loathsome Clear Channel logo at the bottom. Though in the United States the Clear Channel monopoly is known mostly for its thousands of homogenized robot-run radio stations, it also has substantial holdings of billboards, music venues, and ticket vendors. Indeed, if you're into pop music and have been entertained recently, there is a good chance that Clear Channel was involved, possibly right down to the control of the things said by artists between songs. While in America, the Clear Channel brand is kept understated so it can work its nefarious monopolistic schemes behind the scenes, in South Africa, Clear Channel seems proud. "Look!" the billboards seem to cry, "We're another quality export from the land that invented brands!"
America's experience gives the people of Johannesburg cause for concern about the ominous appearance of Clear Channel-owned billboards. I wondered if perhaps these billboards were just a toehold in the South African economy, here to stick it out and wield influence, gradually swaying policy to make it more friendly to Clear Channel's interests. I had the feeling that South African radio stations are tightly-regulated and that no Clear-Channel-style radio monopoly would be allowed here. The New South Africa is a progressive country founded largely by socialists and communists, so its laws are likely to be socialist in all the places where it would be inexpensive.
Dina is, as you know, an AP correspondent, so I asked her if she'd heard anything about a nascent Clear Channel monopoly. She'd heard nothing. Indeed, she's been out of the United States so long that she'd never heard of Clear Channel and was unaware of the post-apocalyptic wasteland they'd made of American radio.

We passed only a short time back at Dina's place. I read articles in a recent New Yorker while Dina and Gretchen did their usual conversational catch-up. Later Dina showed us photographs from the Kruger leg of our vacation.

When we returned to the Johannesburg airport, there was a guy waiting for us at our car with a wheeled cart. In the labor-intensive perfect capitalism of South Africa, there's always somebody around to do the manual labor, no matter how trivial or unannounced.
South Africa has a complicated taxation scheme wherein people pay a 14 percent sales (VAT) tax but can recover this money for items they take out of the country. Since we'd lingered a little too long at Dina's house and were somewhat pressed on time before our flight, I went ahead through security to collect the VAT tax refund while Gretchen checked our luggage. I soon discovered that the bureaucracy surrounding the VAT tax was impenetrable. I couldn't collect the tax, I was told, because all the items had been sold to a Gretchen P______. "But she's my wife!" I protested. These VAT tax desk people were obviously numb to people yelling at them, so I had to give up. I went through an additional layer of security right at the gate and then just waited there for Gretchen, the only person who could recover our VAT tax. But even she couldn't recover the money because one of the receipts wasn't properly stamped. Supposedly now she will be getting the refund in the mail, but somehow I suspect that was just a ruse to get Gretchen to move along. I mean, what recourse does she have if the check never comes?

The long flight back to London was overbooked, so we were all crammed in together like sardines. At least Gretchen got an aisle seat, so we both had access to the bathrooms without disturbing strangers. That cannot be said of the guy immediately to my left. He was a Japanese gentleman who kept needing to get up to inspect his baggage. The woman to his left had the nearest aisle seat and she was the person who had to constantly get up to let him pass. I kept seeing the Japanese gentleman carrying a fishing pole, of all things. He'd put it in an overhead compartment, go sit down, and then I'd look up and notice that he had that damn fishing pole out again.
A little while into the flight, water began dripping onto me from the overhead compartment. At first I thought I'd won the jackpot, an easy ticket to an upgrade, but it turned out that the problem was easy to fix. One of the items of the Japanese gentleman's carry-on luggage contained water. By now his antics had attracted the bemused interest of everyone around us. When he wasn't prowling the aisles to check in on his fishing pole, he was back in his seat beside me, frantically writing in kanji longhand, with nearly. I couldn't read what was being written, but I did note that nearly every sentence ended with an exclamation mark. In addition to working on his manifesto, occasionally I saw him thumbing through his London guidebook, which was written in Japanese.
We'd been in such a rush that we'd neglected to bring reading materials, so we were forced to watch movies instead. On the flight from London to Johannesburg, I'd found myself watching Eight Mile (the Eminem quasi-autobiography) over and over again, but there was nothing anywhere near that good on this flight.
I was a little surprised that our jet planes flew over Libyan airspace both on its way to and from Johannesburg. Isn't Libya a so-called rogue nation? Weren't the Libyans behind the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, which blew up over Lockerbie, Scotland? I guess the country down there is no longer your grandma's Libya. Still, there are American sanctions against Libya, and as an American I'm not sure I was supposed to be contributing that fraction of my air fare which pays for the right to use Libyan air routes. Not that I cared.
It was interesting to note that the air in the cabin became much drier as we flew across the Sahara. I didn't notice this on the way north so much, but on the way south, when I'd still been suffering from a bad head cold, my nose had stopped running entirely during our time over the desert.

See some photographs from the South Africa trip.

For linking purposes this article's URL is:

previous | next