Friday, March 21, 2014

Who Needs the Real Thing Anyways?

I've never written a post on my phone, but I'm waiting for my number to be called at the consumer protection bureau and have nothing better to do.  I don't commute (very much intentionally) and one thing about not commuting is that I don't have blocks of time to do things that otherwise would be low priority - not that I'd consider writing a blog post while driving, but I did learn a lot of Portuguese on the NYC Subway and I listened to a lot more podcasts when I drove to capoeira twice a week.  Now I'm out of practice and arrived here unprepared for a long wait, forgetting to bring my headphones.

But believe it or not I have lots of things I'd like to write about, I guess I just need to arrange to be stuck somewhere for a couple hours at a time so I can get them written down.  I actually wrote a post last week but decided it was too personal and dramatic for global dissemination, so I didn't publish it.

So let's get to it- today's topic: Strangers in The House and the State of Global Travel Today.

We've been renting rooms in our house for some time now, used to be just for Carnaval but now it's pretty much a constant thing, and we've gone from renting a single room to renting two.  It's been a good gig and has become a critical part of our income.  Pretty soon the income we have earned from the rentals will exceed what I paid for the house, not that the house was terribly expensive.  Speaking of buying the house, I just realized that 3 of the principals involved in the sale are dead now, nine years later, leaving me and the batshit elderly mother to walk the earth.  Apropos of nothing...

The downside to renting rooms is you always have these strangers staying at your house.  Usually it's not a big deal,especially when they do what tourists are supposed to do and get out to see the city, visit churches and go to the beach and stuff like that.  The problem arises when they don't do those things.  A considerable number of our guests, I'd say between 30 and 40 percent, spend great blocks of time at the house, and some of them barely leave the house at all.

The reason for this should be obvious, dear reader, and it is one of our primary draws for the rentals: Free Wifi.

When I did my world travels back in the 90's I made it part of my adventure to try to find public internet access in all the big cities I visited, and I was mostly successful.  It was my first real experience with the internet, and predated all those online email services like hotmail or gmail, it predated Google and of course The Facebook and Skype and pretty much everything we still have online with the exception of Yahoo, whose future is perennially in doubt.  I lugged a floppy disk around with me with an email program called Eudora on it and asked people to install it for me on their computers. Sometimes they did.

It was all kind of fun, and after I'd done my exotic internet adventure I could still disappear from the radar for weeks at a time without that seeming unusual.  I sent a lot more of these things called 'post cards' than I did actual emails.

It's hard to remember now just how astonishing the reality of being able to communicate with people, in real time, on the other side of the world, essentially for free, used to be.  Our kids will never experience that, and most of us take it for granted and have for a long time.   Many, if not most, of us spend hours and hours online each day, this humble author included.  The internet has transformed my life, making my livelihood possible all these years here in Brazil and several before the big move.  I use the Internet for work, but I also use it for entertainment, and I use it more than I should, and I've been trying, with mixed success, to use it less.

Now let's turn back to the house guests.  I would like to use this forum to speak to them directly, and say what I never could directly to their faces, although I've tried making oblique hints and suggestions on various occasions:
Dude, you're in Brazil.  You probably spent a lot of money to get here, and our rooms aren't fancy but they're not super cheap either.  You probably won't be here for long, and you probably will never come back here again.  Why would you want to spend your whole stay holed up in your room watching movies or posting status updates?  (In Salvador, just finished watching the whole 3rd season of House!)

And another thing: since when did the Internet become a utility?  We have running water, we have electricity, gas for cooking, but man if the Internet goes down some of our guests have been known to FREAK OUT.  And it does go down from time to time, more often than I'd like, since I'm generally the one who has to get it working again.
I don't know if they do this anymore, but the hostels in Europe used to lock the guests out during the day, and you couldn't come in until about 6 or so in the evening.  That was pre-internet, and I'm not entirely sure what the motivations were for doing so, although I'm sure part of the reason was to get malingerers and other assorted lazybones from spending the whole day stinking up the sheets.  For the record, I'm sure I have fallen into this unflattering category myself on more than one occasion.  I am by nature a homebody, as is my wife, which is why it drives us crazy when our guests don't leave the house.

So let me ask you this: would it be outrageous to tell our guests they need to leave the house for at least a couple hours a day?  Say between 8 AM and 10 PM?  Of course it is.  That was a rhetorical question.  We have done a couple things to nudge people out of the common areas - we created a limit of one hour for guests to use our computer, and we recently imposed a guest-kitchen-ban between 9 AM and 1 PM.

I'd like to end with the obligatory "Don't Get Me Wrong" paragraph, but let me say it's from the heart.  Most of our guests are great, and it's very rare that we get a real toady that we can't wait to see the back of.  It's been a great experience for Lucas, although I'm not sure he really gets that yet, as he's met people from all over the world and it forces him to speak some English from time to time.  And I have had some awesome conversations with random people from all over, and occasionally I get to tell a travel story of my own.

Okay, I'm not going to end with that paragraph.  I'm going to end with this:  currently we have an Italian couple in their 60's staying in one room.  We barely see them, as they are always out experiencing Salvador.  And in the other room?  Well, that one prefers the Internet.

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