Who Stole the Steering Wheel?
I'm in Denver, we're running late for a radio interview, we rush down to the basement car park, race over to our Thrifty rent-a-car, I leap in, ignition key in hand — and not only is there no place to put that damn key, somebody has stolen the steering wheel! Where is it? Well, it's on the other side of the car, of course — I'm reverting to the Australian (and British, Irish, Japanese, Thai, Indonesian, Indian, Pakistani, Nepalese, Malaysian, Singapore, you name it) view that the steering wheel should be on the right hand side of the car, not the left.
They go under different names — in France they're the 'sans abris' — but you'll find them from New York to London, Rome to Boston, Sydney to San Francisco, Milan to Chicago — where a woman rattles a cup in front of me for loose change, while taking a call on her cell phone. Please support my phone habit? On the other hand, in London you're not really homeless unless you've got a dog to be homeless with you.
Gimme a SIM card
GSM cell phones, the norm through most of Europe, Africa, and Asia (Japan and South Korea are the exceptions) and now available for much of the USA, work almost anywhere. But boy, you can pay for it. If Maureen calls me to come up to floor 5 of Saks to check this new dress that looks good, the call goes via Australia even though I'm directly below her on floor 4. She pays to call my Australian number. I pay to have her call forwarded back to New York. No wonder phone companies make money.
The solution: get a local SIM (Subscriber Identity Module) card. It's the little half-inch by quarter-inch card which stores all the info on your phone. I bought a T-Mobile SIM card in New York for $10, instantly my Australian phone becomes an American one. When I bought one in Portugal my phone started to talk to me in Portuguese. I bought one in Afghanistan and was amazed to find how good the Afghan cell phone coverage was.
'I've got 15 SIM cards in my wallet and I'm not even a drug dealer,' one of our writers commented.
They tell you something about a country. Ten years ago you could not find one in Italy. Who needed one? If you had dirty clothes you took them home to mama. In Ireland, at the opposite extreme, why do it yourself? There's always some little old lady at the laundromat who will take your washing (and an extra couple of euros) and hand it back to you a couple of hours later not only washed and dried, but all neatly sorted and folded. So I was a little surprised how difficult it was to find a laundromat in Denver. Where are they?
Oh please, never tell me that anything is 'smothered' in anything!
My current SIM card collection.
Books mentioned in this post
Tony Wheeler is the author of Bad Lands (Travel Literature)