Print Story The Iceland Diaries II - - Day 17
By BadDoggie (Tue Mar 08, 2005 at 01:04:43 AM EST) (all tags)
Day 17: Reykjavík, Keflavík
Friday, 04 Feb 2005

I'm an idiot, but the guy at the Tourist info place is worse. I'm a visitor and allowed to screw stuff up. His job is to tell me where the Flybus to KEF leaves from. My ride had already left the Hotel figuring I'd hop into the bus that was there. Mild hilarity ensued.

Inside: Lack of tools, lack of transportation, lack of traffic, lack of beer, lack of sleep.

The Iceland Diaries II: Preface, Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, Day 5, Day 6, Day 7, Day 8, Day 9, Day 10, "Food", Day 11, Day 12, Day 13, Day 14, Day 15, Day 16, Day 17, The End.

I was up at 9:30 and in relatively good condition. I picked up and repacked, checking all the corners and couch cushions in case I'd passed out on that and later made it to the bed without noticing. I've been known to do that. Most stores are still closed at this time of morning. After finishing up I went back down to the hand-knitting store at the corner. It was 10 minutes past the listed opening time and there was no one there. Icelandic punctuality.

I went back home and watched the same damned music videos on TV and went back 15 minutes later when someone had finally arrived. I went with both my initial instinct as well as the vote consensus from the Munich ex-pat's Web forum and chose the hats for my neighbour girls taking care of my cat. Since they're both veggies I expect the vicious hellspawncat is still alive. I looked at another sweater for myself, one I'd noticed the first time I went in to see what they had. It was pretty expensive but nice. Still, I have a few sweaters. I passed. [Update: I'm an idiot. Luckily I'll be back in a few weeks. It's mine.]

I packed the hats and went to 11 to fix the jukebox but there was no one there. I headed back up to Ósóma figuring Gully would be there. He was but the shirts still weren't. Anyway, he knows the guys I'm supposed to meet and has their phone numbers. Gully started calling them for me, finally reaching Pink, who not five minutes later pulled up in his car, stopped right in the middle Laugavegi and told me to hop in. Not a single car backed up behind him blew a horn. We drive the entire two blocks to the bar..

Boring Technical Stuff
Skip to the next header if technical stuff doesn't interest you
A lot of problems with vending machines are due to poor initial production. I'd showed him at least three cold solder joint on the optical controller board. A quick look though and a search for "solder AND reflow" backs me up on this. I'd also showed him how I knew someone had worked on this board before which is why I was focusing my attentions on it. Someone had drawn arrows to make sure the connector would be put back on correctly and there were also clear signs of an industrial strength soldering iron where a little 25W or 40W fine point jobber should have been used. I was right; an electrician friend had taken a stab at it.

There were no tools. What did I need? A soldering iron and some fine solder would be a good start. Boss grabbed hs jacket and told me they'd be here within 15 minutes. I went to work on the coin mechanism.

The Icelandic 100kr coin is made out of brass. It's a little smaller and thicker than a US quarter, or somewhere between a €1 and €2 coin. Someone had filed down the main trapping magnet and had also bent or broken off a couple things here and there making for a very interesting hack job. The mechanism wasn't sitting properly because a piece of the holder frame was bent. Some of the coins would miss the hole and fall over onto the main platform. This shouldn't be a problem except for a slight design flaw that never took into account such a possible circumstance: the transformer with its open contacts is only a few cm away. Worse, over time (and with the constant jostling the machine endures), the coins had spread. I had to kill the juice to do anything more. There were coins only millimeters away from bridging the 240V contacts. Had I come here a week or three later, I'd have had a lot more interesting work to do on the machine.

All told I collected more than 35 coins (about 50 Eurobucks) and dropped 'em down where they belonged. I got the frame sorted and the mechanism sat correctly. On to the main problem. The flippy panels which hold the CD covers wouldn't flip.

The things are attached to a bar which is pulled along a track by a motor. Small holes in the bar allow an optical sensor to stop the motor at the right place. Except the motor was barely moving the bar, and to get it to cycle correctly required my pulling the bar. At first I thought it was the optic detector, but the engineers had thoughtfully designed the little board with an LED on the solder side (visible) so you could see when the opto was registering or not.

Fifteen minutes later a brand new soldering iron and fine solder arrived. I reflowed the points and... nothing. More testing and guessing.

I realised that it was only possible to pull the bar for about 3/4 of a second. It appears the engineers were also clever and wrote a routine to kill the juice to the motor in about the time it would take to flip a set of panels in case the opto went bad or the motor decided to keep running. Hmm...

It couldn't be the motor itself; motors don't go very often and when they do, there's usually a burning smell. There's only one culprit left: the gearbox. Glub knows what kind of sludge is in there and there's no way to work on it or even remove it and ensure the motor itself runs correctly without my tools. I told Pink this and he was disappointed but I said I'd be back in a few weeks and would bring my tools and some parts. I'd also have time to try and get hold of a manual for that thing.

End of Boring Technical Stuff
Here continues the mundane daily life
Word only just got out to the right people that I can fix these machines. Pink has a friend with an old shuffleboard-style bowling game and a pinball machine, both broken. I'm coming back in 7 weeks and next time with tools, although that could lead to a very interesting conversation with customs: "Oh, so you're coming to work here? And no work visa? Have a little deportation, scarecrow." I didn't really think about charging, just doing some favours which are always returned. Hell, I have no idea what to charge here and would have to get someone to find out. OK, so I probably won't get deported since Pink will make sure he's available on the day of my flight so he can confirm that I'm visiting and promised to fix it for him as a favour. I'm still expecting a bit of a hassle.

Pink thinks that a lot of the bars would like pins. I told him that if he can find at least 10, I can set it up. It would mean flying in for one weekend a month for maintenance and repair, but that's a million times better than what they have. It could also be the start of a business and my way into the country. I really have to get that Medieval Madness finished.

Pink's wife came to take me and my bags to the hotel with a child in tow. We didn't chat a lot but I was able to answer the few questions that came my way, most from the kid in back. We got to the hotel and the Flybus was there. It didn't take thirty seconds to extract my bags as I thanked her again and said goodbye, and I walked up to the bus driver and asked if he was the one going to Keflavík.

Traveller's Tip
What'd you say?
When Icelanders don't understand something, they usually don't ask "what?" or "huh?". There are some cases where they'll ask, "Hvað segir þú?" ("What did you say?) but regardless, they never do so with a rising inflection. It always sounds like a statement, and what they normally say is "Hah". It doesn't sound like a question. It takes a bit of getting used to but you hear it so often when Icelanders talk to each other, you can't help but wonder if they have as much trouble understanding their own language as the rest of us.
"No, there's no bus to Keflavík here."
"This is just a drop-off point."
"Are you going back to Keflavík?"
I checked the time. In 40 minutes the last bus was leaving for Keflavík and a taxi ride was probably out of the question. I'm sure another night in the apartment wouldn't be a problem, but there's no way I'll make the damned 5:30a.m. bus. I know myself too well and I'm an idiot. I'd probably be at Sirkus until 5, then standing on the street talking with others until 8. Or an Icelandic Hottay would take me home. No matter what, if I'm not in Keflavík tonight, I won't be on the plane tomorrow.

"Where do I get the bus then?"
"At the BSI terminal?"
"Are you going there?"
"Does ANY bus go there."
"I don't know."

Fuck. I went into the hotel and asked at the counter. "Call a taxi," was their helpful advice. Well, calling a taxi now would certainly be cheaper than calling one in 41 minutes. If I end up having to stay here in Reykjavík, I'm going to the info center to kill the drittsokkur who not only sent my ass here but insisted that there was no service from the BSI terminal.

We're going to Wasteland, Wasteland,
Lava's all you see
The taxi arrived within five minutes and I lucked out; the BSI bus station was pretty close and the ride only cost me 700kr. I saw a bus outside and ran to the counter to buy my ticket. That was pretty pointless, really. This is Iceland, the place where no one gets too upset with the driver in the car in front of him blocking traffic talking to a friend who was up until then driving in the opposite direction. The girl looked at me like I was a madman, giving me an "Of course the bus will wait for you, stupid" look. I'm a little to accustomed to the not quite as friendly, helpful and polite service you get in Germany, where the word "service" itself is generally used more in the context of animal husbandry. I bought my ticket, walked briskly outside and got on. This was the second-to-last bus of the day; the last one leaves at 1500 and it's usually full.

I keep calling it a bus. It's not a big Greyhound or tour-type bus. These are sort of like Mercedes Sprinters, tricked out with 12-16 seats plus a luggage cage in back. It's not uncomfortable, but restrooms are located on either end of the trip. Word of warning.

The bus waited and I got in. I would've taken pictures but the windows were so dirty from the road dirt, snow, slush and everything else, it was futile to even look out the windows much less try to take photos. Instead I sat typing part of today's entry on the way back to Keflavík, listening to Sálin Hans Jóns Mins, a pop-rock band that ain't so bad. The point is to learn the language. The CD has the lyrics and it's not unbearable. I also have Hera and I was right: beautiful voice, talented (writes everything, plays own acoustic guitar) but not totally my style. Still, it's quite listenable and should go over well at the bar, even if only for the novelty value.

The bar... am I going to work tomorrow night or go to the Munich þorrablót or just stay home and relax? I won't know until I arrive, really.

What's killing me about leaving this time isn't all the wonder and novelty coming to an end (although it's a factor). No, this time what hurts is that I'm just starting to really get comfortable and I can actually use the language. Not well, I admit, but I'm picking up a lot more and got my room tonight totally in Icelandic. I decode words I see and hear better and am finally getting a grasp on the basic grammar. It's a sort of groove I remember getting into when I first came to Germany.

And just as I'm getting into that groove, I'm leaving to go back home to a country with a different foreign language. This sucks, Beavis. At least leaving will be much easier this time; I know exactly when I'll be back. I have two weeks of vacation still to take from last year, and they'll be the last two weeks of March. I'll probably take one of those 4- or 7-day packages from IcelandAir and come back. With tools. And a little less booze.

Last-minute plans make big problems more likely, not a good thing when they leave so little room for error. In all likelihood I won't actually learn from this.

At some point I looked up out the window and saw the strangely painted fuel tanks at the Keflavík airport. We were getting close and it was time to call Svala and let her know I'll be at the airport soon.

The bus arrived a bit earlier than I'd expected and I had to wait at the airport. I saw the van and both Svala and Hilmar were in it; the back filled with groceries. We talked a bit on the way to the guesthouse, mostly in Icelandic. I didn't understand the reason but I got some extra discount on the room. I sent another SMS to Óli and got no response.

I didn't get room 103 this time. I made myself comfortable but had to keep quite because Svala told me there were some travellers here who were sleeping. I <GIBSON>jacked into the Net</GIBSON> and caught up a bit.

At around 6:30p.m. I headed to Paddy's but the only person there was the Irish co-owner's father there. We chatted a bit as a few people showed up. There's a party at Óli's tonight. Hmm... I still haven't had a response from him. I may have really blown it at the þorrablót or something. Do I go along with someone and risk showing up where I'm not wanted? I'm an idiot; of course I do.

I remembered the 2/3 of a bottle of pear schnapps I still had with me. I wasn't planning to bring it home since I wanted the Gamal Dansk and Brennevín. I went back to the guesthouse, picked it up and brought it back to the bar to share.

April and her boy showed up. She's in her third month and it seems awful rough on her. Worse, he's a young buck and untrained in the ways of taking care of oneself let alone others. And being Icelandic, he's pretty nonchalant about everything. She, on the other hand, is young but military. What we have here is... failure to communicate. And some serious culture clash.

The three of us decided to go splits on a pizza and ordered one from Pizza 67 while waiting for a couple other people to show up. It beat the hell out of the food we all ate together last time. We finished up and headed off to Óli's.

Hey, Rocky! Watch me blow it with another Icelandic Hat(tay)!
Óli was surprised to see me and said he was wondering what had happened to me. "Didn't you get the SMSes I sent?" "What SMS?" I showed him my phone's sent mailbox. He showed me his phone's inbox. They didn't match up. Maybe Rósa hadn't got the messages either. I mentioned her and that I'd try calling her. Óli laughed. What?

Rosa and her friends, I was informed, are known as the Traffic Girls. "Ha." They only go out on Thursday nights. "What's that have to do with 'traffic'?" Nothing. "So what's with the name?" 'Traffic' as in 'they get a lot of'. Like that's a bad thing." You mean I should've been here last night?" Óli smiled and asked me if I was home alone last night. Yes, I was. He started laughing as he told me I wouldn't have been had I shown up as intended.

I'm an idiot.

They're worse, though. They flipped on Idol. The show is so bad and the singing so god-awful I don't know how they managed. They laughed, talked and laughed some more as the candidates were interviewed. I couldn't understand a word but that didn't matter. The show had their rapt attention.

April was the only woman there and we talked for a few minutes. Pregnancy, the upcoming marriage and the general cultural differences are taking their toll on her. I wish I knew what to say, but she was in a kind of mood where my shutting up was probably the best thing I could say. She went off to have a nap and the rest of us sat around drinking beer and chatting, with me picking up the occasional Icelandic word. I asked Óli if he'd noticed the preponderance of Y chromosomes and he assured me a couple girls were coming over.

Two girls showed up, one never taking her eyes off the phone she was furiously typing into, except to get a beer. The other didn't say much. They were young (but then, so are the guys) and they seemed pretty uninterested in anything going on in the place. Within an hour, they'd split, SMS-girl still typing away madly. We sat around for a while longer until the beer supply had been exhausted, after which we went back to Paddy's.

The American guys I'd met on my initial return more than two weeks ago were there again and we caught up. Our drinking and bullshitting continued until the place started clearing out around 5:00a.m. and I aid my goodbyes and slogged through the new slush and snow to finish repacking my bags in the hotel room I once again paid for and once again hadn't slept it.

The packing done, I hooked up the computer, checked my mail and hit a few sites. I was half-asleep at computer as guy driving me to airport arrived and tapped me on the shoulder...

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