COOL GADGET: Autowit Batteryless Jump Starter

[‘30 for 30′ voice]

“What if I told you a dead car battery could jump start… itself?”

[/’30 for 30′ voice]

Jump starting a dead battery has always been a pain. For one thing, batteries can leak hydrogen and\or other dangerous gasses. The reason you’re supposed to connect the negative alligator clip to part of the car frame and not the battery itself is to prevent sparks, which could cause any leaking hydrogen to explode, which will ruin your day.

Even though car batteries are much safer than they were even 20-30 years ago, jump starting is still no fun. You have to rely on the kindness of strangers (or AAA) and also hope you’re parked in such a way that someone can reach your battery with cables (like a parking deck, if you have cars parked on either side).

That’s why people were excited a few years ago, when companies that make power banks – you know, the battery packs you use to charge your phone – came out with larger capacity packs that included a set of alligator clips so you could jump start a car all by yourself. That’s cool, but it introduces a new problem – the battery pack is just a battery, and it needs to be charged, too. So you have to remember to take the battery pack out of your trunk once a month or so and recharge it. Else, the pack might be useless when you need it most.

But what if you didn’t need a battery pack? What if your car’s battery could charge itself?

Capacitors are small, solid state devices that hold a charge, kind of like a small battery. Most electronic devices have them, to provide a steady supply of current to components; they’re also the reason you’re often told to power off a device, wait 30 seconds or a minute, then restart: capacitors can hold a charge for a brief time after a device has lost power – to fully power cycle the device, you need to make sure that the capacitors empty, too.

capacitors
Capacitors are the black, barrel-shaped devices on this PC motherboard

Capacitors have a few advantages – for one thing, they can recharge quickly – in typical consumer devices, they can go from empty to fully-charged in milliseconds. For another, they can release their charge just as quickly. Lastly, they can be charged and discharged hundreds of thousands of times… unlike a cell phone battery, which typically starts going downhill after a few years.

So… here’s the thing: most of the time, your car’s “dead” battery isn’t actually “dead”… it’s simply below the threshold needed to start the car. There’s plenty of power left in the dead battery, power enough to, say, charge a bunch of capacitors… which you could then use to jump start the car.

Welcome to the Autowit Batteryless Jump Starter!

It’s dead simple to use – the actual starter is a largeish plastic box. You connect the red and black alligator clips to the respective terminals on the car battery, then connect the charger (a largish black box) to the starter using a keyed plug. Like most battery packs, there are lights on the charger to let you know you’ve connected everything correctly. You just press a button, wait anywhere from 30 seconds to a couple minutes, and once both lights turn green, you’re good to go! What’s more, the charger has additional inputs – you can charge it via another car’s cigarette lighter or via micro USB.

Here’s the Internet’s favorite mechanic Scotty Kilmer to explain it in detail:

But, like any device, the Autowit isn’t perfect. As Scotty says, the Autowit probably won’t work on very large engines, especially diesels. And if your battery is actually dead – as in, it’s just time to buy a new one – the Autowit might not work, where a traditional jump start might give you one last start so you can drive to the auto parts store. Also, the whole system is a bit bulky; it doesn’t come with any kind of case, despite having multiple parts. Perhaps the next generation of these won’t be quite so large.

Having said all that, I’ve had nothing but great experiences with the Autowit.

The missus and I have a “beater” car, and unfortunately it has a bad case of parasitic draw, where some device is using the battery while the car is off. So you have to start it at least once a week, or it won’t start at all. I’ve had to jump it three times since I got the Autowit, and it only takes around 90 seconds to charge the capacitors and start the car. But the main reason I bought one was because I accidentally left a door slightly ajar overnight in my Honda Odyssey, which meant the interior lights were on, which drained the battery. I’d planned to order the Autowit anyway because of the issue with the beater, but rather than call AAA for the van, I just ordered the Autowit from Amazon (remember when Amazon could deliver stuff overnight? That was nice!). I hooked the Autowit up to the van and two minutes later it started!

Yeah, the Autowit is a bit more expensive than most battery packs – I paid around $104 for it, versus around $70 for a battery pack I bought for my brother-in-law Christmas before last. But, given how well it works, and how it doesn’t need batteries, I think it’s worth it!

RANDOM THOUGHT #608

In college I knew a girl from Baton Rouge. When she was sober she had a “general Southern Accent”™. My best friend and I used to take her to this bar for Guinness pints. After the first pint the Louisiana twang would start coming out. By pint three she sounded like Justin Wilson:

By beer five it was half Justin Wilson, half backwoods French, and neither myself nor my best friend – nor anyone else for that matter – could understand what the fuck this girl was saying.

Spotify vs. Apple Music

So… back in June Spotify released a new version of their Android software. At first glace, it didn’t look so bad – mostly a huge PODCASTS tab added to the “My Library” page. Which makes sense: Spotify is pushing podcasts hard because they don’t have to pay royalties when you listen to them like they do with music.

Come to find out, it was way worse than that.

A quick refresher: in Spotify when you “save” an album to your library, you’re basically just saving a link to the music files on Spotify’s servers, like a browser bookmark. And Spotify’s Android app used to have a “My Library” page which had tabs for “Artists”, “Albums” and “Songs”. So if you saved 10,000 Maniacs’ In My Tribe album to your library, “10,000 Maniacs” would then appear under “Artists”, In My Tribe would appear under “Albums”, and the songs from that album would appear under “Songs”. If you deleted the album, those entries went away. Simple, yes?

Spotify also has a “follow artist” feature. When I first joined the service in 2015, following an artist was how you got notifications that they had released new music. But Spotify’s notification system never worked that well, so they removed most of it. But they kept the “follow artist” feature, which folks in the Spotify Community said was for “shaping” the music in Spotify’s playlists. If the artists in your Discover Weekly or Release Radar playlists weren’t to your liking, follow a bunch of your favorite artists, they said, and your playlists would get better. And that seemed to be true.

So – here’s what Spotify’s June update changed:

– The “Artists” tab now only shows artists you follow. So if you add 10,000 Maniacs’ In My Tribe to your library now, 10,000 Maniacs no longer appears under “Artists” unless you specifically tapped the “Follow” (or “Heart” icon), too. It’s effectively as if your iTunes install from 2008 suddenly lost the ability to sort music by artist, as if artist information was completely gone. There are lots of people who had been with Spotify since the service rolled out here in 2008 who never used the “follow” feature… and they were pissed that Spotify, without telling anyone or giving any advance notice, emptied their “Artists” lists. These poor folks had to recreate their “Artists” lists by hand. It took some people days.

– The “Albums” tab still works as expected, but for reasons only God and Spotify’s developers know, they removed the alphabetical scroll bar. It used to be, if you wanted to listen to U2’s Zooropa, you’d tap “My Library”, “Albums” and “Z” to get pretty close. Now you have to scroll all the way down manually, like a medieval French peasant!

– It also used to be possible to save only some tracks from an album. So if you liked the sound of The Cars’ remastered Candy-O album but didn’t want all the demos and outtakes that come on that version, you could save just the album tracks but not the outtakes. No more – it’s all or nothing now.

– The “Songs” tab went away entirely, replaced by a “Liked Songs” playlist with all the songs from your old “Songs” tab, but now in totally random order! And since the songs are now in random order there’s no use for an alphabetical scroll bar, so they got rid of that, too. So instead of tapping “W” to get to Roxy Music’s “While My Heart is Still Beating” I now have to scroll through 3,719 songs listed in random order until I find it. Terrific!

– They also moved the “Recently Played” list from the My Library page to the Home page, and they removed all actions from it aside from “open”. It used to be that you could tap on an album or playlist in Recently Played and several options would appear: “Remove from this list” was great for hiding any trace of your secret Def Leppard obsession, “Queue” or whatever. By moving and neutering it, Spotify effectively got rid of a feature that tons of people used.

*     *     *

Needless to say, many users were pissed about all this. I was pissed enough to give Apple Music a try.

So… signing up for Apple Music seemed simple enough. But then I installed and opened the latest version of iTunes on my laptop… and now what? Spotify is a stand-alone app. You open it, and there’s Spotify. Apple Music is… buried somewhere in iTunes? Even though I was signed in to iTunes with the correct account there were no “Hey, we see you signed up for Apple Music! Here’s how it works in iTunes for Windows” prompt. Nothing. It took a few clicks, but I found it. And when I did, the selection was as expected. I looked through several of my more “problematic” artists, and Apple Music seemed to have the same library holes Spotify does: early Saint Etienne and Dramarama albums were missing from Apple Music, too.

Continue reading “Spotify vs. Apple Music”

The Swedish Girl

I watched a Danish series on Netflix a while back – The Rain – and noticed that the lead actress, Alba August, reminds me of someone from my past.

Alba August
(Photo by Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images)

The Swedish Girl moved in to my neighborhood the summer between junior and senior year. She was 15½, and thus needed rides to and from school until she could get her license. Since she was cool and lived just down the street, I offered.

And that’s what our relationship was: I picked her up (some mornings) and brought her home (most afternoons). For several weeks. That’s about it.

Now I’m not gonna lie and say I didn’t have any feelings for this girl. But here’s the thing: for one, she was 15½ and still firmly in school, while I was about to graduate. We lived in the same neighborhood, so there was the possibility of post-break-up awkwardness . And, to be honest, I was sick of the Duluth High School drama by that point: why date someone at your school and deal with the 90210 bullshit when you can avoid it entirely by dating someone from a different school?

Having said that, I loved every second I spent with The Swedish Girl. I took her to school and brought her home, and we made each other laugh and listened to cool tunes along the way. Sometimes she’d draw me pictures as a thank you for toting her. It was probably the sweetest, most innocent relationship I’ve ever had: a cute Swedish Girl was drawing pictures for me and it was fucking adorable.

EDIT – 12/21/2018: I was going through some old pictures I’d scanned and found one of her drawings! This is kind of a simple one – just an R.E.M. logo. I’ve blurred her signature for privacy reasons:

The Swedish Girl (edited signature)

But then I did something – insulted a friend of a friend of The Swedish Girl. I think? I never really knew, which is kinda what pissed me off so much when she dumped me as a friend: I never knew why it had to end.

My last interaction with The Swedish Girl came a year or two later.

It was a Saturday, and my friend Jamie and I had gone to Little Five Points for lunch and to check out the action. Heading back to Gwinnett, we got on the Downtown Connector northbound at Boulevard. I got over a couple lanes, then had to brake for traffic. I looked over at the car to my right, only to see The Swedish Girl. She pulled down her sunglasses and raised her eyebrows a couple times in a faux flirt. I, amazed by the coincidence,  just smiled at her like a moron. The Swedish Girl then gestured at the traffic ahead and mouthed the words “Wanna race?”

Still stuck in idiot mode, I nodded.

So The Swedish Girl just floored it. She had one of those nicer Accords – the “sporty one” is, I believe the correct Man Term for it. Within seconds, she was off like a rocket, weaving through traffic. It took my Jetta a bit to catch up, but when I finally did, it was neck and neck.

Up the Connector.

Past North Druid Hills Road.

Past Clairmont Road.

Past Shallowford Road.

Doing 90+ mph through it all, dodging cars like they were asteroids in a video game.

The Swedish Girl and I would sometimes look at each other as we passed the other, sometimes smiling, sometimes smirking. It was like a really, really bizarre type of flirting:

Troy Weirdest Boner

It was also one of the dumbest things I’ve ever done in a car. And I’m not proud of it now. I coulda killed someone. But hey, at the time, it was just Saturday fun.

Fun, that is, until I finally came to my senses sometime after 285 but before Jimmy Carter Boulevard. There was a bottleneck in traffic, and The Swedish Girl and I had to pass a car. She broke right, while I broke left around the car. But I chose incorrectly: traffic in that lane had slowed considerably, with no way to switch lanes. I was boxed in and could only watch while The Swedish Girl sliced through traffic ahead. She was soon gone from my sight completely.

Which was fine, actually. I remember turning to Jamie, my heart pounding a hundred miles an hour, and saying something like “Oh my God! What did we just do? Man, if the cops had caught us I woulda been screwed. What the hell was I thinking?”

So that’s that. I saw The Swedish Girl turning into, or out of, my neighborhood from time to time, but that was all. If The Swedish Girl ever stumbles across these words, I genuinely hope you’ve had a wonderful life. Because, for a couple months in 1988 you were the coolest.

Creepy

There was a resort in the north Georgia mountains my family used to go to when I was a kid. The resort eventually went bankrupt. My dad’s best friend was friends with the caretaker, so after the resort closed, my dad and his friend would sometimes slide the guy a couple hundred bucks to let us stay for a weekend.

It wasn’t too strange at first. It was the same old resort… just with my family and our family friends being the only people there. But as time went on, it got creepy: the golf course, once so carefully maintained, went to seed. The tennis courts started to crack, and weeds started poking up through them. The water in the swimming pool, once an inviting shade of blue, slowly turned a sickening green.

To my young self, the creepiest thing of all was the resort’s dining room. Like a failing restaurant, the resort shut down without warning, so that employees couldn’t make off with cases of Scotch and lobster. So the dining room sat – perfectly preserved, as if ready to serve dinner that night – for years. There were bread plates, water glasses, silverware, ash trays and cloth napkins, carefully fanned into peacock shapes, on every table. Silk flowers sat in vases frozen in time. The dining room bar remained perfectly stocked with whiskey, gin and vodka.

The (golf) pro shop was the same: perfectly still, with boxes of golf balls and sets of clubs sitting patiently on the shelf, awaiting purchase by people who would never come. And, by the cash register, a stack of scorecards and an acrylic box full of those tiny pencils – still carefully arranged vertically, point side down – as if the club pro had simply stepped away for a few minutes.

I was probably 3 or 4 when we started going there and maybe 6 or 7 when the club shut down. We went 4-5 times after that, when I was 8-10. And yes, I did walk around the resort by myself, pretending some disaster had happened, and I was trying to find a safe hide-out. Walking Dead-style. Still, I’ll never forget looking in that dining room. The doors were locked, of course, so I had to stand on my tip-toes to see inside through the wall of windows that faced the 18th green. And the windows got grimy with time, so even the ghostly dining room itself eventually faded from view.

I’m Back!

Hi Folks!

My apologies if you tried accessing this site in the past week. There was some… unpleasantness between myself and my former host. So after 16 years I ditched them for a new one! But since my former host also has a separate registrar, I thought it best (not to mention cheaper) to move my domain to Namecheap. My former host (and registrar) held on to the domain name to the very last second before releasing it… which finally happened in the wee hours this morning. So now I’m back… “from outer space!”

I hope you like the new look! When moving the site, I was much more concerned about technical stuff. When all that went off without a hitch, I suddenly realized this was a semi-creative endeavor, too. So at worst I’d have to recreate the theme of the old site. Come to find out, I went with the Twenty Seventeen default instead. I’m easy like that. Expect a few tweaks in the next couple weeks, though.

ONE BIG CHANGE: Please update your RSS feeds if you’re one of the 7 people who actually get feeds from this site! Also, my old site was in a subdirectory (jimcofer.com/personal), while the new site is not. If you have trouble with the site, make sure it’s not going to the old address. UPDATE: I added a server-side redirect, so if autocomplete takes you to /personal, you’ll be 301’d to the new site.

Thanks!

Jim

A Random Memory

Back in the 80s, some time after my family moved from one end of a suburban Atlanta county to another, a married couple moved in a few houses down. The husband was, I think, a former big wig in the Air Force. He’d retired and moved to Atlanta for a new job. Somewhere between 6 months to a year after they moved in, their youngest son failed out of college and moved back in with his parents.

I worshiped this guy. I was a 14 year-old dork, and he was a cool 20 year old guy who’d been away… in college! He liked all the cool bands, movies and art. Cool literally oozed out of this guy. And he especially dressed cool – I started wearing a single rubber bracelet – yes, the same ones Madonna would wear 20 per wrist back in the 80s… just ‘cos this guy did, too.

Now, I’m not gonna lie and say we were friends. He didn’t know anyone in Atlanta when he first moved there, and I was “the kid down the street who liked Bauhaus too, and was good for a laugh on a Tuesday night”. Still, we hung out fairly often, at least for a few months until he got connections to people his age in the city.

And so: in 1985, when I was 14, this dude invited me to see Love and Rockets with him. He bought me a few beers – another cool thing about the guy was that he’d been grandfathered into the drinking age hike, so could buy beer at 20. And I, being 14 and with little alcohol experience, got blitzed.

The venue was a “cinema & drafthouse” that was converting to live music, so security was kind of lax. About halfway through the show, I drunkenly crawled up on stage and propped myself up against the speaker next to David J. He looked down at me, but did nothing. Since I – 5’9″ and 117 lbs soaking wet – didn’t seem like a threat, neither did security. So that’s where I sat for about half the show.

Afterwards, my friend, who’d brought his fancy 35mm camera, magically convinced the back doorman that we were from Creative Loafing, the city’s alt-weekly. We got backstage and hung out for a bit, which was cool. But then the party moved to the Winnebago the band had rented. After a while inside, I realized wasn’t feeling so hot, alcohol-wise. So I stepped out of the RV for some fresh air. While standing there, I got the idea of doodling on the side of the RV with a Sharpie I’d brought. A few minutes later, Daniel Ash poked his head out the door. Instead of getting angry, Ash laughed, came outside and drew on the RV for several minutes with me before they left.

Somewhere I have a fuzzy, black & white photo of our “artwork” on the side of the Winnebago.

I finally left Virgin Mobile!

Ah, the ZTE Max XL… the phone they should have named the “ZTE Max RD”, ‘cos you need to reboot it daily! Gather ‘round children, and let me tell you the story of the phone that was so bad it finally made me quit Virgin Mobile!

I got the ZTE Max XL last Christmas. And it seemed pretty awesome at the time – a Qualcomm Snapdragon 435 octa-core processor, a 6” 1080×1920 screen, a 13 MP camera, a 3990 mAh battery, a fingerprint sensor on the back, all wrapped up in some Nougat 7.1 deliciousness! And the thing was only $125 on Virgin’s site! Sounds killer, right? What’s not to like?

ZTE Max XL
(pic via Virgin Mobile)

Well, plenty.

For one thing, the screen is glitchy. Do you remember when a VGA cable would get loose or start to die, and if you brushed against it with your foot, you’d get weird streaks or other artifacts on the screen for a second or two? Yeah, the ZTE Max would often do that when playing YouTube videos, or when I’d play my slot machine games. It wasn’t especially bad – maybe 1 or 2 very short glitches during 30 minutes of game play or video watching – but it was certainly enough to make me worry.

And speaking of “worry”, the entire time I owned this phone I worried constantly about the battery. I’ve never owned a device that ate battery quite like this phone. After charging overnight on my nightstand, I’d wake up, unplug it and spend 15 minutes or so checking my email, catching up on headlines, and seeing what was going on with Reddit. And it wasn’t uncommon for that short usage to drain the phone to 92% or so. Yes, the phone used 8% of a charge just by using Outlook for Android, Google News and Weather and Relay for Reddit for 15 minutes. But that’s better than what I got doing chores: I like listening to music while doing dishes, and 35 minutes of Spotify + Bluetooth headphones could easily eat 20% of a charge. It got to the point where I’d eat dinner and let the phone charge back up to 100%. Then I’d do the dishes, only to watch the battery drain from 100% to 79% in a mere 35-45 minutes. It also didn’t help that the phone had the battery percentage RIGHT THERE on the notification bar, with no obvious way to disable that feature. It was almost like it was taunting me: “You want to listen to the new Sylvan Esso album? Hahaha! That’ll cost you 10% of this charge!”

You might have noticed I said “Outlook for Android” in the previous paragraph. That’s because almost anything Google-related on the ZTE Max did not work once the phone reached a certain amount of uptime.

Continue reading “I finally left Virgin Mobile!”

NICE SERVICE: USPS Informed Delivery

To me, one of the “genius” things about technology is when it fixes a problem you didn’t even know you had. Several years ago, my cable company started offering an Android app that lets you schedule DVR recordings remotely. That might sound kinda pointless at first, but I never realized how often I’d be outside my home – at a family gathering, or at the pub with friends – and someone would mention a show they thought we might be interested in. With the app, I can just whip out my phone, and with a few taps set up a recording. Or – and I know this has happened to most guys at least a few times – you’d be out running  few errands with the missus before a big football game… the one that she promised you’d be home in time to watch. But you’re running behind, and there’s no way you’ll make it home before kickoff. No worries – just use the app to record the game, and marital bliss continues!

Well, there’s a free service from the United States Post Office that’s the same level of genius: it’s called Informed Delivery. Once you sign up for the service, you’ll start receiving daily emails that contain scans of the mail that will be delivered to your home that day (if you don’t want emails, you can log in to the USPS site, or use the Android or iOS app). Here’s a screen cap from their website:

USPS Informed Delivery
(click to enlarge)

Informed Delivery also automatically keeps track of packages headed to your home, and you can use the service to leave directions for the driver (“leave at neighbor’s house”, if you’ll be out of town, for example). You can also use it to reschedule delivery of any missed packages.

There are a few caveats, though. Informed Delivery only tracks “letter-sized” items; it only scans larger items like magazines and catalogs if the sender pays extra for it (and few do). It also only scans mail with your name on it (letters addressed to “Resident” or “Occupant” aren’t scanned). It also doesn’t scan the weekly bundles of ads, like the Red Plum ads we get every week. And while package tracking is automatic, it’s only for packages with a USPS tracking number or Indicia ID; packages from overseas, for instance, aren’t tracked. On the plus side, creating an Informed Delivery account also creates a regular USPS account in your name too, so if you’ve been meaning to set up a USPS account to buy stamps or set up online shipping, you now have one more reason to do so.

In any case, Informed Delivery won’t change your life, but it does make things just a tiny bit easier. For one thing, I live in a townhome that has a “community mailbox”. If I don’t get the daily email from the USPS, I know there’s no mail, so no need to walk to the mailbox. And there have been times (when I had a horrible cold, for one) where I saw that that day’s mail was mostly junk, so skipped getting it that day. And there was one time recently where my missus was looking for something important in the mail, and it was late… to the point where she was thinking of calling the company. I saw what looked like the item in my daily USPS email and forwarded it to her – she was relieved that the item had arrived, and wouldn’t have to spend an hour on hold with the company.

Lastly, let me address (hah!) one thing. I learned about Informed Delivery from one of the message boards I frequent. It seemed like half the posters thought the idea was cool, while the other half thought it was crazy to opt into, since “Homeland Security will know what mail I’m getting!”

Well, first of all, if you’re the type of person who would be of interest to Homeland Security, they’re probably already looking at your mail anyway. Secondly, while I don’t know this for a fact, I’d be surprised if the USPS wasn’t already scanning the mail anyway. The USPS has been scanning the mail for ages – you didn’t think the post office sorted 506 million pieces of mail every day by hand, did you? In other words, I think with Informed Delivery you’re just getting access to the scanned images they already use internally; it’s not like they’re only scanning the mail of Informed Delivery users.

At least, I’m 99.2% sure that’s the case.

Small World

In my senior year of high school, a girl – let’s call her “Karen” – transferred to my school. She and I liked the same music and movies, had similar senses of humor, and got along well together. We became instant friends. But she was wild. Like, “on a first name basis with everyone at the local Department of Family Services office” wild.

Karen eventually got thrown out of her grandma’s house. She moved in with a friend in midtown Atlanta. She lived there for six weeks before stealing all her roommate’s cash and weed and running up a $600 phone bill. Karen then took off to Pensacola and repeated the process – lived with someone for six weeks before stealing all their cash and weed and running up a giant phone bill. She then took off to New Orleans and did it to someone else. She’d then come back to her grandma’s house in Atlanta, totally penitent, begging for “another chance”. I called this “Karen’s Triangle of Terror”, and she repeated this cycle at least 3-4 times.

At one point, Karen’s grandma became so desperate for her to stay in school that she promised Karen a brand-new BMW 325 convertible if she got her high school diploma. Karen actually responded to this, and for 8-10 weeks she stayed in school, actually went to class, kept her partying to a minimum, and generally seemed to have her shit together. So much so that her grandma allowed one of her Pensacola friends – let’s call her “Jennifer” – to come for a visit.

Jennifer was one of the most “inadvertently awful” people I’ve ever met. She didn’t mean to be terrible, she just was. I drove Karen and Jennifer to a party one night, and Jennifer passed out drunk on the way home and put two giant cigarette burns in my backseat (oh, and my car had less than 1,000 miles on it at the time). A couple days later they went to a party at another friend’s house. This friend only had one rule: her mom treasured this 200+ year old Persian rug. DO NOT GET ANYTHING ON THE RUG! Jennifer puked on it. A couple days after that, Jennifer was introduced to someone in my social circle and was like “Oh, Stacey! You’re the one who had to get an abortion ‘cos she was raped by her uncle, right?”

Jennifer (thankfully) went back to Pensacola, and I eventually lost track of Karen ‘cos of her many moves.

* * *

A couple years later I was at work, listening to local consumer expert Clark Howard on my headphones. He mentioned that US Air was going to run an unprecedented sale: $298 round-trip flights from Atlanta to Frankfurt! I called a bunch of friends and actually found one who: a) had a passport; b) had the money; and c) was excited as hell to go.

We didn’t do much in the way of trip planning. I got us a rental car and hotel room for the first night… and that was it. My Let’s Go guidebook would take us the rest of the way. So we landed in Frankfurt, got the rental car and drove to Stuttgart, where the hotel was. We saw some sites, had a few beers and some laughs, and went back to the room.

The next day we explored Stuttgart in the morning, then decided to head to Munich around lunchtime. We got about halfway there – my friend was driving this leg – and he mentioned that we didn’t have any accommodations yet. I got out the Let’s Go and went through a list of hostels and pensions in Munich; we agreed on one place because Let’s Go said it was “the preferred stop for aspiring young models”.

So we arrived at the pension and got a room. It was around 6PM by this point – it wasn’t “late”, but it was a snowy, rainy December day and the sun had gone down a couple hours before. So it felt a lot later than it was. My friend and I ate at a nearby restaurant, hit a bar next door for a couple hours, then came back to the room and crashed.

The next day we hit a bunch of places – the Marienplatz, some Christmas markets, the Alte Pinakothek… ya know, tourist stuff. We decided to go back to the room and chill for a bit before going back out that night. As we climbed the stairs to our room, we saw that the door to the room next to ours was open, and two cute(-ish) girls were inside. Before we could unlock our door, one of the girls called out, asking if we had a cigarette. We said we did, and invited her in to our room (door open, of course).

The girl introduced herself, and I immediately asked if she was from Pensacola:

“Like, ohmygawd, like, how did you know?”

Pensacola girls in the late 80s\early 90s had this particular accent, kind of a “Southern Valley Girl” thing that was quite distinctive… especially in that they could condense “Pensacola”, normally a four syllable word, into something like one and a half syllables.

I explained that I once had a good friend who would get kicked out of her grandma’s house in Atlanta and go to Pensacola quite often. I then said that this girl – the one in front of me, here in Germany – sounded just like this girl Jennifer, one of my friend’s friends from there.

The girl suddenly went pale.

“Wait, is your friend named Karen?”

“Yes.”

“Does she have a Mickey…”

“… Mouse tattoo on her…”

“upper left arm?”

“Yes!”

The girl spun around and ran back to her room. She returned with her wallet… which she opened to reveal several pictures of herself and Jennifer. She was, apparently, Jennifer’s best friend from childhood.

My friend and I had booked the trip thanks to a tip from a guy on the radio. We’d planned almost nothing about the trip. We’d picked this pension almost at random from a list in a guidebook. We hadn’t requested any particular room… and just next door was someone who knew one of my former best friends.

Small world.