Thursday, April 30, 2009

Further signs I am in a different world

I just made a doctor's appointment for a Sunday morning. (don't worry, there's nothing wrong with me. It's part of the visa process.)

Yes, "Imagenation" is spelled, I mean spelt, correctly

So. Day One of work was yesterday. And aside from a fusillade of HR paperwork, it went pretty well. Here is the first headline I wrote.

It's quite a trick to type backwards.

New system, new computers, new style guide... there is a lot new and different about the work I'm doing. I wandered into a real minefield of a story on deadline last night and missed some things that I really should have cleaned up. I would like to blame it on fatigue, the sound of concrete saws on the floor immediately above my desk (they are remodeling the building) or jet lag, but whatever. It's not the way I wanted to end my first night.

On the other hand, my new co-workers took me out to the journalists' hangout here. And by that I mean bar, of course. Unlike the Billy Goat, where Chicago journalists drowned their sorrows and dreamed of drowning their editors, this place has a pool. And it's outside. I have truly wound up in a different world... a world full of British accents, dry humor (or humour, as I have to learn to spell it now) and $10 beers.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

On Falafel and taxi cabs

Tonight I went to eat at the Automatic Restaurant, a Lebanese place that sells falafel sandwiches for the entirely too reasonable price of 5 dirhams. For those of you without a currency calculator handy, that's a little more than $1, and such value adds to the deliciousness of all things food-related.

I even took a picture of the spread for Friend of the Blog and sandwich aficionado Pete. Sadly, it is not yet available for public consumption.

But anyway. After hiking all over town today, I thought I would hop in one of the city's multitudinous and fantastically well-air conditioned taxis to go to dinner. And in it, I had my first political taxi conversation.

It was a bit difficult to follow for both of us, I think, as the gentleman driver's English was as weak as his opinions were strong. So it's possible that something got lost in "translation" when he told me he loved George Bush and, in the same breath, added that the Taliban, although bad people, had some decent ideas. Also, he hated dancing... a fact he stated right after he asked if I enjoyed it (I don't). A really friendly guy who felt we were kindred spirits because the U.S. has too much water (?) and Abu Dhabi has too much money (??).

But the falafel was easy-to-understand awesome.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009


Yes. My first bar. It’s dark and English and (like all bars here) attached to a hotel. The Sheraton, specifically.

An odd note: There is a major push in Abu Dhabi, it seems, to get people to give up smoking. Yet bars (and parts of restaurants) are smoke-friendly. So, unlike Chicago, I have to go more than half a block to get a cocktail or a pint. And also unlike Chicago, you can smoke in a bar.

Me, my Manhattan and yet ANOTHER laptop photo.

Not sure where I was going with that, other than hoping I don’t smell like smoke OR booze as I wander back outside.


I remembered to bring just about everything I needed in my four gigantic suitcases. (and somewhat miraculously, all of it fits in the drawers and closets of my smallish hotel room, with plenty of space to spare. The bags, on the other hand, are just kind of bumming around on the floor like lackadaisical roommates.)

But one key item remained in Chicago. A copy of Lonely Planet UAE.

Lonely Planet is great. It has come through for me in locales ranging from Panama to Seattle to India. Steered me and my traveling companions to great restaurants, refreshing bars and breathtaking sights without delivering us into the hands of any tourist traps.

Well, here I am in a completely new country, and all I have is a copy of “The Arab World Handbook” and a free map from my hotel.

That’s how I ended up at the Abu Dhabi Mall.

I didn’t set out to go there. All I wanted was some kafta, a good cup of coffee and maybe an Internet connection. But in following the nearest large stream of people and traffic, I wandered into the mall, where alcohol is prohibited and capitalism heartily encouraged.

It’s huge, with four wide levels and two towers. And it’s an entertaining mix of local shops and the kind of thing you would run into at Old Orchard, from a Cold Stone Creamery to an honest-to-Allah Popeye’s. All being vigorously patronized by an astonishing mix of nationalities and ethnic costumes. Per usual, I took pictures but have no way of loading them on the laptop, at least for now.

But the good news is that the mall gives me a landmark to work with. Despite a total lack of a legend for the symbols used on the map, I’m pretty confident that if I walk a few kilometers north and west I’ll come across some interesting stuff. Including… my first bar?

A Doyle walks into an airport....

... and there's a bar! A PIANO BAR. A good sign for the rest of Abu Dhabi, I'd say.

So, quick recap of my travels. The 747 from Chicago to Frankfurt was cramped and boring. So I had a beer in Frankfurt, even though it was breakfast time. I even said "danke" at the counter, which instantly used up approximately 1/10 of my German vocabulary.

Breakfast of Teutonic champions.

Five hours and a pretzel later, I got on a Lufthansa Airbus and headed to Abu Dhabi. There is something extra surreal about hearing cabin instructions in German and English as you're headed to an Arab-speaking country. And since my laptop was charged up, thanks to a 10-Euro adapter I bought at the airport, I was able to watch "300," which was entertaining despite a total lack of Brendan Frasier. (Fraser? I just don't have the energy to look it up right now.)

Abu Dhabi at night is hard to get a read on. Lots of billboards in English. Construction all over the place. Cabs that are comfortable and air conditioned and moving at velocities well above the posted speed limit. Now I'm in my hotel room, which doubles as my home for the next month, and having just snacked on a mezza platter, I plan to pass out and let my body fight a fruitless, for now, battle against jet lag.

Yes, I have been taking pictures. But I cleverly forgot to bring a cable to connect the camera to my laptop. So... all you get are these pics I took with the laptop itself. Steve Jobs, I owe you one.

Pre-coma snack.

Pre-coma Doyle with a side order of hotel room wall.

Good night...

Monday, April 27, 2009

We're gonna need a bigger [suitcase]

So the first step in a single journey begins with a suitcase, according to Zen traditions. But the problem is, when you’re moving yourself halfway around the globe, there is no such thing as traveling light.

So one suitcase becomes two, becomes three, becomes “oh, crap, the baggage overage fee is going to make me weep.”

More interesting, to me, anyway, was that I had managed to condense my 32-year-old life into four suitcases, a laptop and about six boxes in our storage locker. When I was in college, I could move my life’s belongings, quite literally, in the back of my gigantic blue car. Counting furniture—and a fiancĂ© and a dog—that’s not possible anymore. Nor should it be.

But as I type this, jammed into a narrow 747 seat next to a wide German gentleman with sharp elbows, I’m surprised at how I was able to distill everything down to those four expensive bags. Will it all look the same as I unfold everything into my new Abu Dhabi life?

Thursday, April 23, 2009

More bloodshed

The Chicago Tribune, my employer up until a couple of weeks ago, laid off another 53 people yesterday from the editorial side. The move was presented as being necessary for survival and to somehow prepare the organization for the future.

Of course what it actually was, was cutting costs. Sadly, the people responsible for so thoroughly driving the institution into a hole of red ink and diminished quality kept their jobs. Way to go.

Here is a partial list of the newly departed, cribbed from Crain's Chicago Business.

Joshua Boak, Eric Benderoff, Susan Diesenhouse, Suzanne Cosgrove, James P. Miller, John Konstantaras, Candice C. Cusic, David Trotman-Wilkins, Lou Carlozo, Lilah Lohr, Robert K. Elder, William Grady, Elaine Matsushita, Elizabeth Botts, Russell Working, Jo Napolitano, Melissa Isaacson, John Mullin, Bob Sakamoto, Terry Bannon, Tom Carkeek, Ed Cavanaugh, Richard Rothschild, Brenda Butler, Jessica Reaves, Tom Hundley, Storer Rowley, Tim Horneman.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Someone explain the Garfield jokes to me

So last night, over Indian food, the self-titled No. 1 Fan of the Blog complained that there hasn't been much, well, blogging around here lately.

That's going to change. (And obviously it already has, because you're reading a new blog post.)

As of last Thursday, I have not been working here.

The Tribune Condo Tower.

As of April 26, I will be working here.

White. Just like the Wrigley Building. And no, that's not where my office is.

Yes. Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. Read Ink is going international. And you better believe the whole experience is going to get documented right here.

(And yes, I WILL post more India photos as soon as I get a little breathing room. Promise.)