Ooh, that smell, the smell of deals surrounds you
The U.S.’s budding legalized pot industry could learn something from Amsterdam’s long-standing custom of allowing soft drugs in its coffeehouses. On a recent trip there, I spotted abundant signage for head shops and invitations to drink and smoke inside. The smoking, of course, refers to marijuana, not tobacco, which is forbidden in most restaurants there. Ironically, you can be tossed out of an eating establishment if your lit cigarette contains even the smallest hint of tobacco; it has to be 100 percent marijuana to be legal.
The guide on a walking tour pointed out Amsterdam’s history of tolerance was being tested. Some locals wanted a ban on foreigners visiting their coffeehouses because of their inability to hold their marijuana. Nothing is worse than trying to enjoy a good cup of coffee and a toke while having to put up with some foreign novice’s high jinks. I witnessed a couple of loudmouth examples of this—and, yes, they were Americans—and no, I wasn’t one of them.
I’ve commented several times that a good toilet is hard to find when you travel overseas. In Europe they all seem to be down or up narrow, steep stairways. The public water closets in Belgium require an investment of one-half euro. Sometimes an attendant was on hand to make change, but in the train stations you need exact change and a strong bladder. A cheaper option was to head to a pub for a glass of beer or wine every few hours and use their facilities for free.
In picturesque Bruges, I encountered a nose-numbing experience. While dining al fresco—there was a line of about six quaint outdoor restaurants in the main square—a truck parked in front of the last restaurant and began pumping out the septic tank—at 11 a.m. A visitor can put up with the odor of horse manure in the street, because a charming horse-drawn carriage preceded it, but there’s nothing remotely charming about human waste. Even the horses were appalled.
And as long as we’re on this subject, I just want to add that I’m offended when Delta flight attendants ask us to be sure to use the restroom in our “class of service.” I thought the U.S. was a classless society?
Trading up to Mexico
The day after I returned from vacation, I headed to Mexico for the franchise trade mission, a joint effort between Franchise Times, the International Franchise Association and the U.S. Commercial Service. We had two stops, Mexico City and Monterrey.
October was a month of culinary firsts for me, and hopefully deals for the trade mission participants. In Bruges I ate snails—not the buttery, garlic-ladened ones with the fancy escargot name, but the backyard ones that looked like prehistoric reptiles. In Monterrey, I ate guacamole covered with grasshoppers. (Ok, I only ate one grasshopper.) I like novelty, but I draw the line at baby animals, except veal. IFA’s Josh Merin, however, is not married and has no children, so he ordered baby goat, which all the males at the table shared. The next night we expected him to continue this trend with suckling pig, but he surprised us by ordering lasagna with mole sauce, where even the cheese had been aged.
Donnie Everts of World of Beer and Dan Hannah of Smoothie King went out on their own to visit a bar owned by one of Donnie’s candidates. The two were getting an education on tequilas, when Dan made the mistake of asking their tequila mentor what the red spice with the tequila was. When they were told ground worms, Donnie downed a shot to kill the thought of it and Dan asked where he could buy it. Later Dan told me that when he worked for Chi-Chi’s, they used to order worms for tequila shooters, and then charge double for them.
The bowl of tortilla soup I ordered from room service my first night in Mexico City came with pork rinds. I remember as a 10-year-old loving pork rinds, because I had no idea what they were. I thought they were pork-flavored potato chips. Sometimes the only way we can eat food is if we don’t ask too many questions.
Seldom do I allow any extra time for sightseeing on a trade mission, but this time I saved $50 on my airfare by leaving at 4:30 p.m., instead of 8 a.m. I was fortunate Dan Hannah wasn’t leaving until later in the afternoon, too, so I accompanied him on his site visits. There were only three restaurant operations he needed to see, so we had time to go to a market and a museum.
At the museum a miracle happened. I was prepared to pay 534 pesos for a folk art papier-maché figure, when the clerk told me the price was for two. Can I buy just one? I asked. “No,” she answered, “they’re a pair.”
So in essence, I was able to get the art piece I wanted for half price! This was the first time in my life I have ever been able to get more for less. Usually, I’m so inept at negotiations I end up paying more than the vendor originally asked for. I was so high on my newfound skill, I didn’t even need Amsterdam—or Colorado.
Walking in Memphis
Before there was Bruges or Mexico, there was a trip to Memphis to interview Rick Ross, this month’s cover story. While I was writing the story on the plane to Atlanta (my connecting city for Mexico), my seatmate was eerily reminiscent of the subject I was profiling. He was taller than Ross, with dreadlocks pulled up in a ponytail, but he had the same style tattoos—where instead of a picture telling a story, the blue tattoos combine words and symbols—and he wore the same diamond-encrusted watch as Ross.
He also had a guy seated in front of him who looked more like an eager-to-please manager than a peer and a guy in coach who was the keeper of the electronic cords. I wanted to ask if he knew Rick Ross, but he wrapped the Delta blanket around his face turban style, plugged in his music and slept for the entire trip. I looked him up on the Internet later and discovered I was right—he was Chief Keef, who had been performing at the Cabooze in Minneapolis. It really is a small world—at least for rappers, my new editorial beat.