20 April 2010

Part Seven: Two Employees For The Continent of Europe, Obviously

Our packed Citroen C4 screeches to a halt just outside the Calais Ferry Terminal building. Adam and Charlie dart inside, as we’re frantically attempting to book tickets as foot passengers to save Charlie’s Mom and stepdad the hassle of ferrying over from Dover just to go back 15 minutes later. We pull the doors open to reveal literally hundreds of people snaking around the building in a line that stretches for what seems like miles. Some are standing, some are sitting, and some are bundled in a sleeping bag attempting to catch up on days of missed rest. We follow the zig-zag all the way to the front, where just two people are behind the counter selling tickets. Once again, Europe has really risen to the challenge of this now global crisis.

Realizing there was no hope of getting walk-on tickets, we made the call and had Gillian and Malcolm (and Knights in Shining Armour) board the dog gone ferry. Now with nearly two hours of free time on our hands (free time you say? CRAZY!) we decided it would be a good idea to do a dry run of their route to make sure we could give very accurate instructions so as to make the 4:45am ferry instead of waiting until 6:15am. Let it be known that 3am dry-runs of a highly confusing route overseen by five rather vocal people after 15 hours in a car together is not recommended.

The ferry exit led directly to a highway that had only one exit 5 miles down the road. That exit had both a left and right turn option with led to a roundabout that swoops under the highway and back onto the ferry return lane, shooting vehicles back into the boarding zone to go back to England. Confusing? Try putting all of that into a text message, which took us 15 minutes to agree on wording. It was the first and only moment where we got testy with each other. Indeed, the Ferocious Five neared a state of meltdown.

Because it was a highway, we had to lug our bags out into the middle then flap our arms to flag down the cars, dump in our bags, and zoom into the customs line. This was, of course, after we parked the car at the end of the lot, ran the key to the drop box in the ferry terminal half a mile away, then darted back to our makeshift pick-up zone. Magically, the entire operation went off without a hitch. As their cars crested over the horizon and our salvation become visible, the excitement exploded. “I have never actually jumped for joy like I did just now,” David said.

Cars and bags safely stowed below, we toasted to our success with ferry-quality champagne, watching the sun rise over the White Cliffs of Dover as we approached good old England. We had done it. We had pulled off the greatest escape in travel history. Bring it volcano. Bring it.

As our train pulled into London and we each headed in our own direction, the reality of reality slowly started to settle. Why, again, had we decided to come back to all this? Why, again, did we want the adventure to end? For the life of me, I can’t remember. All I know is that I’ve got an excellent pair of plumen-goggle-strassen to check out the mean cloud of volcanic ash!

Long live the Ferocious Five.


Kyle Taylor

Part Six: Leather Vests and Plume-Seeing Goggles

Having had breakfast in Dubai, lunch in Tunisia, and dinner in Spain, we were all feeling the effects of non-stop travel fueled solely on adrenaline. Thankfully, a friend in London booked us into a great hostel on the outskirts of the city, which became “Ferocious Five” headquarters for the evening. Now that we had sorted out getting to Calais, the next step was crossing the Channel.

True to form, no websites would process our booking request. Not Eurotunnel, no P&O, and not SeaFrance. It was all “critical errors” and “impossible operations,” much like our lives in general at the moment. As a result, we were up late into the night (or was it early into the morning?). Sleeping just 3 hours, it was once again time to move. Following a mesmerizing free breakfast of dry cereal and bizarre muffins, we loaded all five bags and all five people into a car the size of my thumb. Every single minute iota of space was full of something, as we had emptied David’s bag to stick individual shoes, socks, and shirts under seats, between headrests, and inside other bags.

The next 15 hours of non-stop driving emerged as a real blur, full of inside jokes that probably aren’t funny, kind service station employees drawing maps on the back of receipts, and the same six songs played over and over again on the two radio stations we could tune into. Somehow, the notion of Germans wearing leather vests made us all laugh over and over again, as well as our collective invention: the plumen-goggle-strassen, which is the only pice of equipment that lets you actually see the volcanic plume cloud floating overhead in an otherwise pristine sky. There were more nicknames like Swervy McSwerverson, Countless shots of Red Bull, and even the use of toddler toilets at rest stops top avoid the line. Yes, we are all aware of how ridiculous the whole thing sounds.

Despite the frantic nature of this marathon drive, there was also something particularly beautiful about it. Here we are, five total strangers thrust into an impossible situation, crammed into a tiny car packed to the brim genuinely enjoying each other’s company and relying solely on this intense trust in ourselves and each other. As we pulled into Calais minutes after midnight, the thought of it all ending seemed more sad than anything. Couldn’t the adventure live on forever?


Kyle Taylor

18 April 2010

Part Five: Our Journey Was Longer Than Yours And Other Topics Of Conversation That Are Boring

The five of us are closer than we every thought we’d be to getting back to London and it feels good. Touching down in Barcelona just minutes before planned airport closures in Spain, the adrenaline is pumping through our veins in a way I didn’t know was possible. I am ON FIRE and it feels so good!

After extensive conversation, we agreed that renting a car was the most cost-effective and timely way to get back to London. We head to the rental car desks only to learn that every car at every company is sold out. In fact, every car in Europcar’s Northern European fleet is booked. EVERY SINGLE RENTAL CAR IN EUROPE IS BOOKED. The only hope is a cancellation or an early return. Hertz gets cranky and while they do have one vehicle that needs to be “taken home to France,” the computer will not allow the employee to rent it until 7am. “Come back then and if you’re lucky, it is still here.” Alas, once again, the computer wins in Europe.

Europcar is a flat out know. Avis has a sign up that says “you’ve got to be kidding if you think we have cars available. Go away.” That was the gist, anyway. Just as we’re about to head to our hostel in a taxi, The Hertz guy waves me over from the other side of the terminal. I literally sprint at top speed to his counter, where he tells me they have a small compact car that was cancelled on the phone minutes earlier. We have five people and five large bags. Small compact car? It has wheels and an engine, so we’re checking price. What might you guess Hertz charges for a car in times of crisis? $1200 per day. That’s right, TWELVE HUNDRED DOLLARS FOR ONE DAY.

Fortunately, Charlie decides to make one last check with the other companies. Somehow National car rental emerges with a Citroen C4 5-door. Still a compact car, but not quite as tiny. The price? Just $400 including full insurance and 750 kilometers. $60 per day plus $280 to return to a different location. Not totally unreasonable. We commit immediately, pay away, book away, and head straight for our wheels.

Thirty minutes later we’re struggling to close the trunk while duffel bags, pillows, and the like are piled shoulder-high on every passenger but the driver. We’re in, but just barely. Finally a splash of luck on this epic adventure. What’s happening in Dubai, you ask? They’re still stuck in the hotel paying $160 per night to “wait it out.”

The first part of the final leg begins NOW. 1000 miles in 12 hours From Barcelona to Calais via Paris. BRING IT ON!!!

Part Four: Options & Our Global Operation

The plane is fully boarded in 10 minutes and we’re backing away from the gate 20 minutes early. This is a race against a volcanic ash cloud and our pilot is desperate to win. Thankfully, I doze off within minutes and wake up just minutes before we touch down in Barcelona. We are officially in Europe and it feels good!

This is our crossroads destination. There are several options from this point that will determine how we pass the final leg to London by land, as we’re now in the “volcanic ash zone.” The real conundrum seems to be crossing the Channel, as there is absolutely no foot traffic allowed and space on the Euro Car Tunnel is limited. Options at the moment include:

1. Renting a car direct to London, crossing at Calais to Dover on the EuroTunnel then continuing on to our final destination.
2. Renting a car to Calais then getting picked up there by Charlie’s Mom, who would shuttle us back to England and on to London.
3. Taking an overnight bus to Paris then a train to Calais and shuttled back to England.
4. Taking a mid-day train to Madrid then catching an overnight bus direct to London.
5. Taking an overnight train to Brussels then getting shuttled across to England on the EuroTunnel by my Belgian host family.
6. Riding horses all the way.

While there’s no final word on what we’re going to do, the whole operations team extends far beyond the five of us. With Aditi in London checking prices and schedules for the EuroTunnel online the forwarding details to us by text message and Sarah in Barcelona calling car rental companies and leaving voicemails with facts and figures, this epic journey would never have worked without them. They are our little pieces of heaven. Thank you thank you thank you.

How do you think we should get back to London?

Part Three: Africa Is The Fastest Route To Europe

Our plane touches down in the 72-degree warmth of inviting Tunisia. I had fallen asleep before take-off and slept soundly until just before landing. As the jet comes to stop, the five of us let out a collective cheer. We’re no longer in Dubai. This is a rag-tag bunch of foreigners, united in crisis and excited by adventure.

First there is Adam (nickname Andy because that’s what I called him the first day we were slobbing around the hotel). He’s a son of Oz living in London and working as a Sports Coordinator for nearly twenty schools. Built like a nuclear bomb shelter, he has taken the role of quiet enforcer.

Second, we’ve got Charlie (nickname Squirrel because she forages for food at every opportunity, constantly offering us suckers, candy, and Frosted Flakes). Living in South Africa but headed home to England for a wedding, her laugh is contagious and she keeps the energy levels up.

Next we have Emma (nickname Laura because that’s what Charlie thought her name was for several days). From London and living in London, she takes on 26 three and four-year-olds every day of the week, prompting her to label this trek “a piece of cake.” She’s got a sharp wit, and she was the first to frolic in the Tunis fountain. Good on ya!

Then there’s Dave (nickname Snap, Crackel, and Pop to identify his three distinct anger levels, which elevate without warning). Our resident Kiwi, he lives in London and works as a digital strategy consultant. He’s an absolute character, and you can’t help but wait with bated breath to hear the next great joke spew from his mouth.

Finally, there’s me - Kyle (nickname Plow because that’s Dave actively believed my name to be since, “you know, Americans name their kids really weird things like Stephanie”). He’s just happy to be getting to Europe, and fills every role of the typical American.

We managed to get Adam into the country despite strict VISA requirements, grabbed our bags, and got in a cab to see the city before moving onward to Spain. Our driver managed to get us to agree to some astronomical price since we weren’t quite sure of the exchange rate, then proceeded to offer us a “very nice three hours driving tour around Tunis for a very good deal.” We managed to resist.

Bags dropped, it was into the city to explore the Mosques, squares, and markets of this not-quite Cairo, more than Marrakech city. We wandered stalls, ran through fountains, and even managed to meet the real-life, self-proclaimed Tunisian “Tom” Cruise, who only works the market on the weekends since he is a college professor of Political Economics during the week. Some lamb kebob, kitschy souvenirs, and public arguments later, we’re whisked away by the same driver to get a move on back to Europe, no worse for wear. Somehow, our flight even manages to depart 20 minutes early. With things looking up, we can’t help but wonder what might go wrong next.

The real amazement is how well we get along. Charlie noted that she reckoned “anyone who met us would just think we’re a group of old friends on holiday” and I couldn’t agree more. It really is true that times of crisis bring people who were total strangers just 48 hours earlier so close together. Our personalities mesh, the inside jokes roll, and we each fill a unique roll that has transformed us from five disparate individuals into a genuine team of rag-tag go-getters. These will no doubt be friendships for lis. At the moment, however, we’re all just over the moon about the free coke we’re getting on the plane.

Part Two: That’s Not Accurate Information

In times of crisis, the true nature of “modernizing” regimes comes out as the shiny glitzy surface immediately erodes into a frightening display of secrecy and misinformation. Upon exit, we’re all forced to sign a paper indicating we have stayed at the airport. I am made to somehow pay my room bill twice, told I will be “detained” if I don’t reconfirm the charges. Our minibus to the airport runs smoothly and the terminal is - thus far - not in a state of total disarray. It’s just 6am. We’ve beat the rush of 7,000 manic travelers who will no doubt appear when the airline kicks them out of their hotels at noon.

The first hurdle is checking bags to Tunisia. “There’s a problem,” the small lethargic woman behind the counter wimpers. “I need the supervisor,” she moans, as she begrudgingly waves her hand in the air. Twenty minutes later that’s settled. Next we have to process our refunds for the Dubai to London leg.

The line at the ticket counter is still relatively short and we make it to the desk in no time. One of the ferocious five (the nickname we’ve given our new gang) is already in heated debate. Apparently our Dubai to London leg is worth less than our entire ticket, meaning we somehow OWE the airline money even though we’re not flying that leg of the journey. Tensions are rising as we lay out a story we’ve been told on the phone to a group of rude staff telling us we need to go to downtown Dubai for our refunds and that downtown Dubai is “the only place we can process that request.”

Fearing more misinformation, we decide to video tape this interaction as proof of our own personal nightmare. “You can’t video us,” the man says. “Now I’m going to call security and he can teach you a lesson. We’ll see how much you like that.” Great. Not only are we being asked to pay for flight segments we didn’t use, the airline is now cryptically threatening us with prison sentences, which they dole out here for things like kissing in public. Fearing retribution and getting nowhere, the group decides to move on, wanting nothing less than to board our plane.

The hour hand clicks to 8am. I have now been up for 24 straight hours and 42 of the last 46 hours. The man at immigration apparently shares my exhaustion, yawning while he stamps me out of the country. A mad dash for pre-departure coffee means the “final call” lights are flashing as we approach the gate. “At least we’re here, somebody says." Not quite. Charlotte, one of our gang members, is asked for her “paper ticket,” which we obviously don’t have because we booked online. “Sorry then, you won’t be flying.”

If we’ve learned anything in the last two days, it’s that nobody - NOBODY - gets left behind. Either five people go to Tunisia or nobody - not us, not the flight crew, not the other passengers - goes to Tunisia. An extended argument leads to their realizing they’ve messed up our tickets, which of course they do not take responsibility for and instead make a veiled attempt at shifting blame.

“Whatever,” Charlotte says. “At least we’re getting out of here.”

Part One: It’s Go Time

“Sir, I can confirm you on a seat to London April 29th, assuming the volcano stops erupting,” Anne from Emirates airlines told me over the phone. That was twelve days from now. A group of five of us had been camping out in my room at the Millennium hotel in Sharjah for several hours now brainstorming other ways to London. The notion of flying directly to Europe’s busiest airport in the face of such obstacles as an Icelandic volcano spewing ashing across most of the Continent seemed grim. “I know! We could take the Orient Express! Or maybe go to Africa then ride camels across the Sahara, cross the straight of Gibraltar then travel north through Spain and France to the shores of Calais, where we can hitch our way across the Channel with some truck drivers.” We all began to laugh hysterically. “Yeah, like we’d ever have to do all of that.”

It’s now seven hours later and we’ve turned my Dubai friend’s office into a situation room. Emirates is on speaker phone, the calming “hold” music offering incessantly irritating background to the chaos that has ensued. Someone else is coordinating with a few people still at the hotel. Pat, our host, is handing out apple cobbler and ice cream to keep us going. I’m on the computer confirming flights to Tunisia then onward to Barcelona, making our once absurd trek about to England a reality. At this present time, it seems, the fastest way to London is via Africa.

“Yes, you’ll be refunded Dubai to London,” we’re told. Knowing that, we book Dubai to Tunisia over the phone, simultaneously click “buy now” on the connecting Tunisia to Barcelona flights and “BOOM,” we’re at least on the Continent. After two days of watching the hot Arabian sun rhythmically rise and set over the artificial expanses of Sharjah while the Emirates airlines offered us no information on what was happening on the outside, we’re all desperate to feel like we’re moving in some sort of direction. We’ve been eating hummus for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. There is a public stoning of a woman tomorrow that has been suggested as an afternoon tourist activity. It’s time to go.

Those legs booked, we get in taxis and head back to the hotel. The new challenge is booking a train from Barcelona to Madrid then a bus from Madrid to London. The Spanish websites won’t seem to process our purchase. A quick glance at the clock confirms that it’s now 3am. We have to be up and out the door by 6am to make our Flight to Tunisia. What should take five minutes has now dragged on for three hours, the mighty Emirati firewall doing all it can to keep us from London.

I decide to bring in reinforcements, skyping a friend in London who then g-chats with a friend in Barcelona who then wakes up her Spanish boyfriend who then calls the bus company in an attempt to make a booking. He’s relaying info to his girlfriend, she’s relaying it to London in text, and she’s sending it back to us over skype. It’s globalization, social networking, technology, and inefficiency dominating our lives in a shockingly annoying way. Unable to confirm anything actually in Spain, we shot down the chain of communication and decide to manage the situation once we’re on the ground in Europe.

By now it’s 5am. Time to take a shower and pack for the airport. No matter what, we’re on a plane to Africa by lunchtime. One step closer to London.

16 April 2010

Volcanic Eruption Inspires Real-Life Amazing Race: Five Strangers Find The Fastest Way To London From Dubai is through Africa.

17 April 2010 - With most air travel in Europe at a total standstill and plumes of volcanic ash blanketing the continent, hope was dim for five strangers to get from Dubai to London. Abandoned by Emirates Airlines in expensive Dubai after getting half-way to England and turning around, this collection of Kiwis, Aussies, Brits, and Americans decided to buck the trend and find their own way home.

Starting Saturday at 09:35 they’ll be criss-crossing the Middle East, Africa, and Europe with flights from Dubai to Tunisia to Barcelona, followed by a genuine plane, train, and automobile adventure in a frenzied attempt to get back to the Island Nation for work, weddings, and family emergencies. “Sitting around in the hotel just waiting wasn’t enough for us. The airline told us it could be literally weeks before we were put on new flights, and we were told we’d be kicked out of our rooms on Saturday at noon. What other choice did we have,” asked David Parry, one of the ferocious five-some.

With everything booked through Barcelona, it will be a mad dash to the finish line from there, as all buses out of Paris are booked, there is no room left on any ferries into Dover, and airports are still closed. “It’s going to be by any means possible,” said Kyle Taylor. “We’re looking for any ideas and help from Barcelona to London. Everyone has something on they’ve got to get back for, and it just feels better moving than sitting around waiting for an unresponsive airline to help you out.”

There is no set arrival time or date just yet, but the goal is “as soon as possible.” If you’d like to contact this wild band of go-getters, send an email to mrkyletaylor@gmail.com and aditi.fruitwala@gmail.com, or call Aditi at +44-751-847-1161. You can also follow their progress at http://mrkyletaylor.blogspot.com.


08 April 2010

So I Filmed Some Public Service Announcements

So about 18 months ago I filmed about two dozen PSA-style short ads and feature length interviews for the National Institute of Health to assist in promoting the sciences - and particularly Genomics (the study of the human genome) - to teenagers across the country. Well, they're finally live online and it's pretty hilarious.

Naturally, I'm wildly embarrassed and a touch shy about it, but I thought I'd share because it's some really great information for young people thinking about going into the sciences. Click here to go to the first "overview" video. From there you can click around to the other intro video and the "Interactive Videos" section along the top. There is nearly 6 hours of footage, so don't get too invested unless you're really interested in the complex - though fascinating - world of the human genome.



Kyle Taylor

07 April 2010

Pebbly Beach: Perfect

Pebbly Beach Kangaroos Australia - 100

I’ve been to probably 100 different different beaches all over the World in my years of globetrotting. I’m not saying this to sound all “oh, yeah, I’m so awesome, I’ve been to so many beaches” but instead to emphasize how A-MAZING Pebbly Beach is, as it makes - without a doubt - the all-time top five. Yes, it was that good.

Pebbly Beach Kangaroos Australia - 123

Located in the awesomely named Murrawanga National Park, there are only two permanent residents at Pebbly Beach - the operators of the camp site. There’s no running water, no power lines, and no central heating system. That’s right, it’s all pumps, solar, and gas. It all added to the already copious amounts of charm oozing out of every bit of this adventure.

Pebbly Beach Kangaroos Australia - 009

The beach is only accessible by a poorly maintained dirt road that just sort-of “ends” where the path to the water starts. We parked up with our window facing down toward the crashing waves. What view could be better to wake up to?

Pebbly Beach Kangaroos Australia - 174

Then there’s the lack of people. With a limited number of camp sites and cabins there are in turn a limited number of tents and humans. Though the proprietor described the weekend as “busy,” I saw no more than 12 other people on a beach that stretched more than a mile down the coast - capped at each end by “Jurassic Park-like” trees and fabulous cliffs.

Pebbly Beach Kangaroos Australia - 083

Finally, there were the resident kangaroos. They’re wild, they’re friendly, and they hop all over the place. In short, it’s just brilliant. I was so genuinely happy frolicking in the grass with them, my grin was stretched ear to ear.

Pebbly Beach Kangaroos Australia - 201

While all of Oz that I’ve seen thus far is magnificent, Pebbly Beach definitely takes the prize for best beach. When can we go back, I wonder...

Pebbly Beach Kangaroos Australia - 135

More photos are here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/kyletaylor/sets/72157623658783715/


Kyle Taylor

06 April 2010

Unemployment Part Six: Getting A Third Wind

Pebbly Beach Kangaroos Australia - 198

I was told early on to focus on getting a second, third, fourth, and fifth wind throughout this process. Sometimes it can be difficult when you’re trapped in the drudgery of the day-to-day comings and goings of the job hunt. Thankfully, there are government-mandated holidays when it’s actually impossible to seek out work and you must - by law - take a break. These are the times to seek out those consecutive winds by escaping the city, and there are cheap ways to do it. Here was mine:

Jervis Bay - 06

Overview: Drive down the coast of Australia camping on gorgeous beaches and petting wild kangaroos.


Borrowed Motorhome - FREE
Gas For Borrowed Motorhome - $35
Food For Four-Day Holiday - $35
National Park Camping Fees - $10


Jervis Bay - 04

Yes, for $80 I was able to get away on the sly, relax, rejuvenate, reflect and prepare my next attack! Follow the trip up with a few tips from my life coaches and away I go upon returning to the city! The best advice I got? “Remember, you’re going to find a job eventually because you have to. You just have to. Therefore, it WILL happen.”

That’s an important thing to keep in mind moving forward. Just relax, take the rejections, learn from them, and remember that I will get a job eventually no matter what. Why? Because I have to.

More on my actual adventures tomorrow!


Kyle Taylor

01 April 2010

Unemployment Part Five: Unemployed Jokes

The Ultimate Rejection Letter
Herbert A. Millington
Chair - Search Committee
412A Clarkson Hall, Whitson University
College Hill, MA 34109

Dear Professor Millington,

Thank you for your letter of March 16. After careful consideration, I
regret to inform you that I am unable to accept your refusal to offer me
an assistant professor position in your department.

This year I have been particularly fortunate in receiving an unusually
large number of rejection letters. With such a varied and promising field
of candidates, it is impossible for me to accept all refusals.

Despite Whitson's outstanding qualifications and previous experience in
rejecting applicants, I find that your rejection does not meet my needs at
this time. Therefore, I will assume the position of assistant professor
in your department this August. I look forward to seeing you then.

Best of luck in rejecting future applicants.

Chris L. Jensen


I'm hitting the road for a few days in a friend's caravan. Ciao!


Kyle Taylor