I have a horrible sense of direction. If you put me in a car and tell me to drive from my house to across the street from my house, I’d probably end up somewhere in the vicinity of Montana – and that’s before I stopped to ask directions. Pete once sent me to run a PTQ for him in Richmond, but accidentally wrote down that I take I-64 West instead of I-64 East. I ended up in West Virginia before I turned my car around, and I cost myself about four extra hours of travel time.
That’s neither here nor there – and I say this because if it were here I’d have already taken the “shortcut” eight miles in the wrong direction, and if it was “there” I’d be at my destination, 3 hours late. Today’s Blog Fanatic contains three strange cases of the Bleiweiss kind. These stories are 100% true, and all people involved have had their names kept the same, since I’m sure they relish in the fact that I get lost so easily.
The Mysterious Case of Roaming in Rome
I flew out to compete at Pro Tour: Rome with my friend Jeff Taylor. He and his mother had gotten a plane out to Italy the day before my flight, so they had already checked into our hotel room before I had even started my journey to Europe. Armed with only the name of our hotel, I arrived in Rome and took a shuttle from the airport to downtown proper. Unfortunately, the shuttle dropped me off at the wrong hotel. There I was, in the streets of Rome, carrying ol’ Brown, the beat up suitcase that could.
I’ve had ol’ Brown for going on seven years now. Technically, it isn’t my suitcase – I borrowed it from good friend Nicholas DiNatale (younger brother of twins Anthony and Chris who have been frequently mentioned in my blogs) for that trip. To this day I have not returned the suitcase, since it has gotten more and more ragged with each trip I’ve taken. The wire rims stick out of the frames of the suitcase, holes have appeared near the corners, and the latches and straps to hold the suitcase are frayed and worn. In short, I’m surprised that I’ve finished certain trips with my luggage intact.
Anyhow, there I was on the streets of Rome around noon, with the midday sun beating down directly on me. I did the only sensible thing possible – I started wandering around the streets of the city looking for a street sign that corresponded with the one I had for the address for my hotel. Surely I should have stopped and asked for directions, but that would have been both smart and efficient. I’m glad I didn’t look at a map, ask for directions, or find my way around that day, because instead I got to see the entire city of Rome.
With a heavy suitcase.
Wow, that walk was truly horrendous. First of all, there are a million stray cats in Rome, and they pee all over the place. By the time the afternoon sun ferments these bodily fluids, the entire city smells like the house of an old spinstress who owns a bumper crop of felines. Second, the drivers in Rome are the worst I’ve ever seen in the world. The streets in Rome are very narrow, and drivers saw no problems in going fifty to sixty miles per hour down already crowded streets in a congested city. These reckless drivers were even more dangerous given that people would park wherever they wanted, including on both sides of the street, on the sidewalk, and even in the middle of the street (I swear I saw one person pull up to a red light, get out of his car, and leave it there. Dave Price would later tell me the proper way to cross the street in Rome.
Dave: “Here’s what you have to do – just walk across the street and don’t look at traffic.”
Me: “Are you insane?”
Dave: “No. If you look, then the drivers know that you saw them coming and they won’t stop. If you just look straight ahead and stop walking, then they’ll stop for you.”
I did not cross many streets in Rome. I did eventually find the hotel where Jeff and his mom had been waiting for me for five hours – the amount of time I spent wandering around the home of the Pope, just a lost wandering Jew in the Catholic center of the world.
Later in the trip, Jeff and I would get lost looking for food and eventually would find, of all things, a hamburger stand after an hour of wandering around the city. To this day we both swear that the burgers we ordered at that stand were the best burgers either of us have ever eaten in our lives. I am sure they were seasoned with the sweat of lost tourists who wandered their fair city to the point of exhaustion.
Mr. Draft Box Wanders The Nice Streets
This one is simple enough – Jeff Taylor (again with that guy!) and I attended Pro Tour: Nice (I was doing coverage and he was a competitor) and we ended up palling around a lot of the weekend. I brought my Draft Box overseas and I got to run quite a few drafts both before and after the tournament each day. On Sunday, Jeff and I arranged to have a draft box exhibition with Mark Rosewater at a local French shop in Nice. Naturally, Jeff and I got lost on the way to the shop and we ended up wandering the streets of the beach town for over four hours, taking turns carrying the thirty pound draft box. We finally found the shop, but Mark had long since left and Jeff and I were exhausted from having lugged the Draft Box around for multiple hours. One day I will have a custom-made box created for my Draft Box – one which has wheels and a handle. On that day, I instead gave Jeff the gift of permanent arthritis of the arm from carrying the box so much.
The Longest Flat Tire
The Neutral Ground crew would frequently take road trips in my mini-van (specifically purchased to be a road trip vehicle) to different tournaments up and down the Eastern seaboard. One such trip was to either Rochester or Syracuse (I forget which), attended by about eight of us, including Eric Kesselman, Brook North and lil’ Tony Rodriguez. Tony was about 13 or 14 at the time, and Eric had taken him under his wing to become the next big thing on the JSS circuit. This was the first time that Tony’s parents had allowed Tony to travel out of the city, and he was under a strict curfew to get back to New York City by Sunday evening.
We drove up to the Sunday PTQ in Upstate New York, where none of our crew made the top four. This was also the tournament with the famous Healing Salve of Bogardan incident, but that’s a story for another day. We started back to NYC at around 7 that evening, and we expected to hit Manhattan around midnight. About three hours into the trip, I pulled off of the highway to get gas for my car. On the way out of the gas station, I U-turned directly over some old abandoned train tracks (which were obviously not meant to be driven over) and completely destroyed my passenger side front tire.
So there we were, 10pm at night on a Saturday, and my tire is flat. Everyone got out of the van and I went to look for a spare tire – but I couldn’t find one. I checked the back of the van, under the seats, on the roof – nothing. No tire, no donut. I limped the van back into the gas station, and we made a call to triple A in order to get someone to bring us a spare tire. Unfortunately, the nearest mechanic to this exit was 45 minutes away from us. He finally arrived around midnight, but quickly found that he didn’t have a tire that was right for my van. He needed to drive all the way back to his shop, and then back to us again (an extra two hours of time), finally fixing my van at around 3 in the morning. The gas station had long since closed by that point, and everyone was tired, cranky, and hungry – they only had chips and snacks to eat from the gas station, with no real food available for hours.
As he jacked up my car to take off the old tire, he peered under the frame of the car. There, underneath the car, was my spare tire.
Mechanic: “Did you know that you have a spare tire underneath your van.”
Eric Kesselman: “HE WHAT?”
Me: “Well, you learn something new every day.”
Eric proceeded to grab a jelly donut and shove it as far down my ear as it would go. The rest of the ride home was marked by silent disbelief from Eric, snoring from Tony (who would be grounded for a month for missing school the next day due to us arriving in New York City after sunrise on Monday), and the sounds of the cars whizzing down the highway, muted by the jelly and crumbs stuck in my ear.
Ben can be reached at [email protected]