After an amazing breakfast (German cuisine seems at times to consist primarily of fresh bread, fantastic meats and cheeses, milk, beer, and chocolate–it’s like they invented a whole country just for me!) — I set out to (a) Charge up my “burner” cell phone (“Handy”) so that people could reach me, (b) Find out where the heck the Comic-Salon actually was, (c) Change a couple thousand dollars I was forced to bring with me to pay for our booth, and (d) Find out where my missing trade show display went.
The progress report went something like this:
Quest A: Charge up Phone
Asked hotel clerk if he knew how to accomplish this. He suggested I go downtown (bis Zentrum) to find a place with Vodafone stuff. Walked around Erlangen in strange concentric circles buying first (a) A Cola Light (German for “Diet Coke”), (b) A Skype headset I saw at a computer store I walked into, (c) Another Cola light. and (d) A strange variation on a Kit Kat bar (with peanut butter!) that I was curious about next to the register. Without having said a word to the cashier, I apparently got clocked as an American as he said “THANK YOU!” to me he handed me the change.
Potentially overbroad insight: I’ve noticed that I can struggle my way through long conversations in German with government-types, bankers, and travel agents all day long, and they won’t say a word about it, and seem happy to nod, smile, and apparently never notice that I’m missing every fifth word they’re saying in rapid-fire German. Shopkeepers, on the other hand, are near-psychic when it comes to guessing your nationality (and you know you’ve been “made” when they try switching part of a conversation or greeting to you in English. If I were ever playing the male, German, version Eliza Doolittle, it wouldn’t be the embassy ball where I’d fear not being able to “pass” — it’d be the corner Fleischer (butcher).
Eventually, I stumbled across a huge shopping center, which led me to a Vodafone store, where a stylishly dressed clerk topped up my phone for me. QUEST COMPLETE!
Quest B: Find out where the convention actually is:
Asked stylishly dressed cashier where the Comic-Salon was. Mumbled too much. “Comicland?” he asked out loud. “Nein! Comic-Salon!” corrected a bystander. Bystander pointed me out the door and down a block from where I was standing. There, huge banners, a line of cars carrying comic books, and… Beer trucks(!)… announced that I’d found the right place. QUEST COMPLETE!
Quest C: Change money, pay for show
(Background: The Erlangen Comic-Salon is put on by, or at least in conjunction with the city of Erlangen. Which means that–unlike any comic show I’ve ever been to–it’s a government thing. And governments don’t believe in Visa. Or PayPal. Or, as it turns out, any form of currency transfer I could use from the States. This left bank wire transfer–or at least it would have, had the Erlangen bank code not been done in such a way that left my bank unable to wire money to it. So I brought cash. Lots of it.)
Double-checked that the show needed Euros, not Dollars, and was pointed to a street with a lot of banks on it. The third of these was able to accommodate the conversion of Dollars, albeit with a 5-Euro fee, and a conversion rate that would make Steve Forbes cry (.62 Euros/Dollar). Still, it was a darn sight better than the .57 Euros/Dollar and 5% fee they wanted at the Airport). Discovered that Germans do not say “Wire transfer” — they say “Bank Transfer”. Wondered why Americans don’t say “Bank Transfer”. Got money. Walked three blocks back to Comic-Salon without being mugged. Paid for show. QUEST COMPLETE!
Quest D: Find Missing Bags
Here, I discovered that in life, like so many adventure games, it matters which order you do your quests in. For, having promised me that my bags were no doubt delayed only by an hour or so, and would undoubtedly arrive the previous night by courier, I got the following update from the airline: They didn’t really know where the bags were, but they were probably at the airport. In Customs. Or perhaps at lost baggage. But probably in Customs. The British Airways web site was more blunt: “No information available.”
Pressing the matter through repeated phone calls (I got a chance to work out both my cell phone minutes and that new Skype headset!), I learned the terribly interesting cultural fact that Thursday (tomorrow) is not just the start of Comic-Salon, but also a German national holiday: Fronleichnam, or the Feast of Corpus Christi. Unfortunately, according to the grumpy-sounding German lady on the phone at the British Airways lost baggage call center, this also meant that my bags wouldn’t be delivered until Friday morning, “or perhaps evening.” “But the show, which I’ve just paid for, starts tomorrow. I’ll be out thousands of dollars if I don’t get those bags tonight!” I protested. Grumpy German Lady (GGL) suggested that they might have more information in 90 minutes or so, and the call ended on a defeatist note.
After re-checking Google Earth and confirming that yes, Erlangen was halfway across Germany from Frankfurt, I still felt that if my choice was either to spend several hours and $150 or so on trains today in order to get my bags and set up for the show, or miss out on 2 days’ exhibiting time at this increasingly expensive show, that the Smart, Resourceful Guy I hope to be most days would be getting on a train to Frankfurt. (Defeatist Weasel Guy (DWG) appeared briefly and encouraged me to go back to Comic-Salon, beg for my money back, then catch the first plane back home). But SRG decided to call the airline again.
“OK, I understand that the bags are in Frankfurt, in Customs (or maybe Lost Baggage). Can you tell me: If I go halfway across Germany by train to pick them up, are they definitely going to be there? And when does Lost Baggage close up for the day?” Happy Italian Lady (HIL) on the phone was very sad that my bags had been lost, and wasn’t Terminal Five at Heathrow just the worst, and that she would check for me if I would just hold for a while. After which, Happy Italian Lady was less happy. “So very sorry, ” she said, “but I don’t know the hours of the lost baggage…err…and the baggage may not be there right now. But we’ll definitely have it there for you by Friday night.”
Words expressing my great concern and displeasure were said. Promises to call me back were made. But two hours later, my phone had not yet rung.
Finally, I called once more. “Look,” I said, “I’m getting ready to head down to the train station, and I’m going to be super-unhappy if i travel all that way and don’t get my bags. Are they definitely–no fooling around, definitely in Lost Luggage?” “Oh absolutely!” was the reply. Followed by a “Let me check on that” to my question to when Lost Luggage closed. The phone went silent for a very long time. “Oh!” said German Lady to Whom I Could No Longer Ascribe a Particular Temperament (GLTWICNLAPT), “It seems the bags aren’t there anymore. They’re with the courier. But he won’t be delivering them until Friday because tomorrow is a holiday…”
“So I can’t even pick them up myself?” I asked, incredulous.
“But the courier won’t deliver them until two days into the trade show?” I asked.
“Yes that’s right.”
“This is a disaster!” I groaned, wondering whether DWG had it right all along.
“If it’s important, perhaps I could arrange to have the courier call you to see if they can be dropped off on an urgent basis?”
“Yes.” I chirped. “That would be really good if you could make that happen…”
To be continued…