A generally good night sleep in Ingrid’s place and I woke up to an empty house. Ingrid was at work and I went downstairs to make myself some breakfast. Some salami, sliced cheese—yum. Some chocolate sprinkles on a bun—yum yum. Good breakfast and I was ready to start the day.
When I say “generally good night sleep”, I mean it; it is worth mentioning. I won’t delve too much into details here, but to put things in perspective, I should say that unfortunately, until I go back to Canada in August, “sweet night sleeps” are going to be extremely rare. Well, that’s life I guess… nothing is perfect. I hope things improve a little bit but, realistically speaking, I’m pretty sure they won’t.
The direct consequence of this is that I will have to rest for a bit during the days as well.
(No, you don’t have to be afraid to come in contact with me; it’s not due to a disease)
The schedule for the day was to leave with Ingrid at around 12:00pm, pick up a friend of hers (Marion; I hope my spelling is correct), then pick up her nephew—an adorable 11 years old boy named Samuel—and then drive to Oberhausen, where I will check into my hotel room and join the rest at the venue.
After spending a couple of days in such a fabulous house with such fabulous hosts, I tell you folks, it’s a bitch to leave. I didn’t want to start train‐riding again, staying in dusty hotels (most of the time) and eating sandwiches. I would kill for another day in Ingrid’s house, at that room on the third floor with a window overlooking a mill that is conveniently located a stone‐throw away from the house:
… But there are planes to catch, bills to pay and a tour to follow. No time for bitching… so we left at around 12:00pm.
Killed about an hour together over lunch in an impressive brasserie in Goirle, centrally located in a neighbourhood where house prices start at around €1M (sorry, I only carry €2M bills in my wallet). Fantastic toast with goat cheese, and to end—Waarme Appletaart, that’s a warm apple‐crumble pie for you. With whipped cream on top.
Why bother? just kill me and send me to heaven already.
Eating sweet things makes me sleepy and so I spent most of the way to Oberhausen with my eyes closed; luckily, Ingrid was way more alert than I was and was driving impeccably. A short stop along the way to pick Marion up; then another half an hour drive towards Germany, and we picked Samuel up—not before Ingrid, her sister and Marion all had a nice lovely discussion of which I could make no sense at all as it was in Dutch; the weather was good, though, so I enjoyed the breeze. :-)
As soon as we left The Netherlands and entered Germany, no speed limit anymore and Ingrid went on to demonstrate what Johann’s SUV can do on a German speed‐limitless road. Mind you, the experience was less scary than the experience driving the convertible just two nights before; mainly because it was daylight, but also because, hey, I was in a car moving 170 km/h before, so, really, what’s 160 km/h between friends?
At around 4:30pm, we left the highway and entered the city of Oberhausen. Too bad, because, seriously, even the highway presented a nicer view and a more inviting atmosphere than the grey city of Oberhausen. Driving through a series of one‐way streets, we finally found my hotel for the night—Stadt‐Gut‐Hotel Zum Rathaus, about one kilometre away from Oberhausen’s main train station.
Seeing the hotel from outside, I immediately assumed that, hey, that’s another booking fail. That’s actually a hotel / restaurant combination; the restaurant has a terrace, and it is not by any means full during the day—but not empty either, making it hard to fall asleep until the place closes at around 1:00am. Entering the lobby, I had to use sign language and repeat everything I said multiple times as the guy checking me in couldn’t make any sense of what I was saying.
Not surprising, I have to say. Show me a tourist guidebook that even mentions the city of Oberhausen, and I’ll show you a tourist guidebook that ran out of useful things to write about. This is a hotel for German people who had the misfortune of having to spend a night in Oberhausen for whatever unfortunate reason. The typical tourist from abroad is unlikely to spend a night in this city.
On my way up to the room, I fought through a stairwell filled of cigarette smoke (did I mention that the room offers only non‐smoking rooms? Funny, isn’t it. Your room is a non‐smoking room but in order to get to it you need to inhale enough cigarette smoke to kill a young elephant). The room itself wasn’t so bad. Considering the location and all other factors, yes, €49 is a decent price to stay in this hole.
Worked a bit on the June 20–21 blog entry and was going to publish it when I realized that it didn’t come out right. Didn’t have much time to edit, as I had to leave for the venue; that would explain the late‐night publishing, sorry about that.
Leaving my hotel towards the central station—a short walk of around 600m—I hardly encountered any living soul. This is a sad city, I tell you. Something here is missing… I think it’s called “life”.
Arriving at the train station, I had to find out which train / tram / bus I need to take to get to the venue. Ingrid told me, earlier that day, that there is a station right at the venue… and now I had to find out how to actually get there. Oberhausen’s central station appeared to be as sad a place as the city is; deserted, simple, uninviting. Approached Deutsche Bahn’s information desk, and asked for directions.
None of them there spoke English, which made the experience a little frustrating but also a bit funny. The sentence “take bus SB90 from outside to the left, 3 stops” has been translated into 5 minutes of actually walking with me, pointing me to the bus, and the inability to communicate the bus’ number to me. I knew he really wanted to tell me, but… how?
BlackBerry to the rescue. Opened the MemoPad application and asked him to punch‐in the bus number.
He was absolutely thrilled by what technology could do. I thanked him dearly and left, not before purchasing a ticket (local bus services are not covered by EURail passes).
It was a short 5–6 minutes bus ride to the arena, during which I was looking sideways through the bus’ windows, trying to get a glimpse of something that would please the eye—to no avail. 3 stations later, I left the bus—as Ingrid said, right at the arena; I couldn’t possibly swing a cat without hitting the venue. Very close.
While the city of Oberhausen doesn’t provide much to please any of the five senses, the König‐Pilsener Arena area does. Ingrid had mentioned to be that the arena’s area contains pretty much all that is to see and do in Oberhausen. Scores of restaurants and terraces, filled with people most of whom were there to feed themselves before the concert started. After collecting my ticket from the will‐call booth, I went down the stairs towards where all the action seemed to take place, in order to explore my dining options and to find Ingrid—not necessarily in that order.
Ingrid, along with quite a few Knopfler fans who frequent Knopfler’s concerts in Germany, were seated at a terrace of some restaurant. When I got there, food has already been ordered (at 6:30pm) but hadn’t arrived yet (it was just before 7:00pm). Doing a bit of thinking, I realized that my chances to order food now and get it on time are slim to none; therefore I had to resort to plan B—enter the nearby mall and find something to eat at the food court.
(Later, Ingrid told me that their food arrived at 7:30pm—that’s one hour after ordering it)
I was informed that the mall had a food court; unfortunately for me, the term “food court” automatically translated in my head to a “North American food court”; and whoever of you who hasn’t been to North America before, you should know that food courts in malls there have more than three restaurants to choose from. So there I was, after spending 20 minutes locating the mall’s entrance and its food court: Burger King by my side, Starbucks, some place that sells desserts and a Nordee store (a German fast‐food chain that specializes in serving junk‐food type fried fish in buns).
Tried the fish; I was very hungry so my taste buds were willing to accept pretty much anything as “acceptable food”, but let me tell you this: it was absolutely disgusting. Horrible. As a matter of fact, it was so horrible that, once I was done with it, I decided to do something I never done before and compensate my taste buds with a small ice‐cream cone from a nearby cafe I found on my way out.
Steer clear, I tell you; don’t eat there. Spot a trash can on the street instead, block your sensitivity to humiliation and eat whatever is in the trash; would probably taste better.
I feel nauseous just writing about it, so I’ll stop.
Left the mall and headed to the venue, a couple of minutes walk from the mall.
The König‐Pilsener Arena (Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/K%C3%B6nig_Pilsener_Arena) used to be called “Arena Oberhausen”. It has the capacity of 13,000 people and is mainly used for hosting sporting events. It is very crowded; once you pass the ticket collectors, moving around becomes a bit tricky and you’re best advised to just go to your seat and avoid hanging around.
My seat—block 102, row A, seat 9—was the absolute dead centre seat at the front row. My nose aligned perfectly with the dividing line between the two speakers at the centre of the stage; that guarantees the best sound one can get from the front row (usually, the sound at the front rows is not as good and accurate as the sound at the back) as well as the sense that the entire band is there to perform just for you.
A quick run for a nature call and I made it back to my seat at the very instant that Feelin’ Good started playing. About ten seconds later, a few minutes past 8:00pm, the concert started.
In contrast to Oberhausen’s general lack of attraction and charm, the concert in Oberhausen was actually a very good one with great music all along and a few moments well worth noting.
The Oberhausen audience turned out to be of the more polite ones, nowhere near as roaring as Köln’s but still very receptive. A lot of love from this small city towards the band, which was in top shape after a day off in the nearby city of Dusseldorf. It is interesting to note that this band always plays very well on days when they don’t have to do too much travel—“too much” being more than a couple of hours in total.
After the show opener, What It Is started playing and within a couple of minutes it appeared to end as the last verse was sung. For a second I thought that I had dozed off; then it turned out that the second and third verses of the song switched seats. It sounded weird; What It Is is of my favourite Knopfler songs, and I believe its verses are ordered in the way they are for a good reason. Somehow, the phrase “High on the wind, the highlands drums begin to roll” sounds much better when it’s sung at the third verse instead of the second one. Sounds like an insane distinction? perhaps it is. But that’s what I think.
Regardless, good solo with the high notes during the song’s quiet period before the outro extravaganza.
Romeo and Juliet then started playing, during which Mark looked towards someone at the audience located almost directly behind me. He appeared to be a bit distracted… and then, at the last verse:
“… And I can’t do a love song… (pointing his finger) with the way you’re filming me”
And it took me a couple of minutes to control my laughter. Hell, was that an insanely funny moment… I hope my laughter did not distract any band member (as I was seated right at the front centre) but, sorry, I couldn’t help it. It was an hilarious moment.
Marbletown followed after a few songs. As almost always, Marbletown was the pinnacle of the show, demonstrating superb musicianship by all band members; this time, however, it was not just great—it was fabulous. I have watched this song performed live more times than I can remember, and as I was expecting the notes to die‐off as the song’s end neared, I was baffled to find the band still playing—John and Mike came up with an extended ending that sounded fantastic and added a fair bit of beauty to an already fantastic song. Yes, that’s another Marbletown standing ovation for me. I strongly encourage such initiatives.
The Fish and the Bird whom I thought found a place to build a home in after two shows in a row, appeared to have migrated somewhere else as the song was absent; back to the usual setlist—identical to Köln’s only with Get Lucky replacing the two animals.
As usual, a bombastic performance of Telegraph Road and its outro solo sent the front‐rows seaters rushing to the stage. I made my customary slow walk, letting the bulls charge the stage before I find my place to stand.
The usual encore played, and after So Far Away, our adorable Samuel had Danny Cummings hand his drumsticks to; Samuel appeared to be very happy about it. A good performance of Piper to the End followed shortly and the show ended at 10:20pm.
Once the show ended, suddenly I began to feel a bit off. Some headache along with a slight abdominal pain made me forget about figuring out the bus route back to the station, forget my hurting right ankle and just walk back to the hotel as fast as I possibly could. It was a 2.5km walk, which I did in about 30 minutes, a bit less perhaps. Walking through the city of Oberhausen, I once again realized how boring (if not outright scary) it is. The main shopping street had everything closed and all I wanted was to just get back to my hotel room, sleep through the night and get on with the trip as early as possible the next day.
Semi‐sleepless night, and I woke up at 8:30am to the sound of Eddie Vedder’s “Rise”, in the middle of an intensely‐strange dream.
It was a day at the beginning of April, 2004. The snow of the just‐about‐past winter was in its early stages of thawing into the more useful substance of water. I woke up early in the morning, the sun was shining; looking through the window, I saw clear blue skies with not even one cloud in them. The sun’s rays reflected off the thawing snow, creating a sight that was too bright to look at for more than a second
At that time, I was working as a full‐time employee for a high‐tech company. The first company I worked for in Canada; it has been 15 months working under the worst manager imaginable, and I finally decided to call it quits. Looking at the blue sky out of my room’s window in the city of Waterloo, where I shared a 5‐bedroom apartment with 4 idiots, I decided that there’s more to life than living in a small city, thousands of kilometres away from where I really wanted to be, and working for a manager that must have taken lessons in interpersonal skills from Osama Bin‐Laden.
I wanted to go west; and in that morning, I made the decision. A few hours later, a discussion outside the office and I reported my resignation. A few curse‐words later, it was over. A few weeks notice so I can finish whatever it was that I was working on, and I’m free.
It is amazing how simple things become once you make, within yourself, the decision to burn a bridge or close a door.
Most people assume that keeping doors open is a good practice which rewards one with the privilege of choosing from a variety of options. While this is true, it is only true to some extent—and you would be surprised to find how short that extent is.
The “gift” of having an analytical mind—hence, the ability to think through all (or most) possible consequence of any possible action—is absolutely and utterly worthless without the knowledge of when to stop analyzing and what options aren’t worth looking into in the first place. In other words, more often than not, the very existence of options and bridges clouds one’s judgement to the point that even simple decisions become hell to reach at.
I remember the preparation. I wanted to fly west, to Vancouver; and in three weeks, I had to not just finish the project I was working on, but also prepare for moving my entire life 5,000km west.
I remember going through my “stuff”, deciding what goes with me and what stays in Waterloo; I remember arranging with my friend Rob that I can keep my car at his garage, filled with stuff I don’t need, along with instructions to ship the car to Vancouver once I’m settled in. The desire to move west gave me all the strength and wit I needed to plan everything just perfectly, as everything worked and went like clockwork. Correction: better than clockwork. Clocks could calibrate themselves by the accuracy and tip‐top‐ness I worked things out.
As time was approaching, I was proud at what I managed to prepare and organize in such a short time. It was not easy doing all of that completely by myself. That was a move 5,000km west, not to a neighbouring city.
Everything was ready; by the very beginning of May 2004, I even had a series of job interviews lined‐up in Vancouver. Everything was ready for the big day, May 7th, when I was going to use my one‐way flight ticket from Toronto’s airport and arrive at the city that, to this day, I believe is the best city to live in on this planet.
Little did I know, though, that Lady Fate has been watching me very closely during that period. Lady Fate, apparently, has a weird and bizarre sense of humour—sometimes, even, a bit too cruel. Lady Fate may be erratic, but to her credit, I will admit that she gave me all the right clues that I just refused to acknowledge.
May 7th, flight scheduled to leave at 9:00am or so… I couldn’t wait. I counted the days, the minutes…
… And so did Lady Fate. With her superbly sharp sense of humour, she gave me the illusion of being in full control during that entire period; and on May 6th, one day before departure, she decided to unveil herself.
I remember that short errand I was supposed to run. I remember driving for about an hour westbound on highway 401; taking exit number 183 or so; driving under a small bridge and turning left on York Street. I remember parking my car on an empty street, and waiting—hands in my jacket’s pockets, a bit impatient as I was planning on going back home to make sure, once again, that everything’s ready for the big day.
My big day, however, was a big day in my schedule, not Lady Fate’s one. And at the end of the day, I came to realize whose schedule really matters; and it wasn’t mine.
The minutes passed… and then it happened; and once it did, my big plans were as relevant and purposeful as pile of used newspapers compacted together into a huge ball and tossed right into the garbage.
Signing off this post at 12:04pm, on board the ICE train to Mannheim for tonight’s show.