Boxes and coffee

Now that the bike was unpacked and ready, I had to deal with the box.

I made some improvements since the last trip. Now the box had crude cardboard end-caps, so I could hold all the little foam bits safely inside. I still had to seal it with tape, but I didn’t need a whole dang roll.

Innermost layer of the box, folded up.

The endcap makes a little holder for foam blocks!

Ready for shipping.

The next step was to get the box shipped out of the country. Like last time, I couldn’t be sure of my eventual destination, so I couldn’t just send it ahead of me. I needed to ship it to someone who could hold onto it for three months or possibly longer, and then be willing to send it somewhere else. This time the (dubious) honor would go to my nephew James.

Last time I thought perhaps DHL had a desk inside the airport itself.  Nope!

Super bonus expert strategy time! I booked a free shuttle ride to take myself and the box over to the airport, but instead of getting out at the airport like a sucker, I asked the shuttle driver to take me directly around to the DHL office one street over, saving me almost an hour of pushing the box around on a pilfered airport trolley. He was fine with it, since I was the only person left in the shuttle.

I would have handed him a cash tip, but I didn’t have any cash yet. Bonus expert strategy failure; boo!

The lobby was closed but a guy came out and started to tell me that the nearest DHL shipment center was quite a ways away. Then he paused mid-sentence, shook his head as if to clear it, and told me to come inside because they could just ship the package there.

He led me back into the rear office, and I sat in a chair by his desk. He opened the website shipping interface on his computer and walked through the forms with me. All around, people were moving boxes and loading up a van, listening to 80’s-era rock music loud on a stereo built into the wall. In about ten minutes they shut the van doors with a bang and it sped out of the loading bay.

My friend clicked the last button on the form and saw that the site intended to charge me 900 dollars to ship an empty box. He hissed in his breath, then without saying a word to me, he put on his earphones and made several phone calls, talking rapidly in Icelandic. During the second call, he leaned his head close to mine and said, “bear with me,” then got up and left the desk for a while, still arguing on the phone.

Eventually he pulled out his earpiece and sat down again. He opened another window on his computer, typed a few things, and presented me with a bill for $450 — cutting the cost right in half.  I had never asked for a discount, and he had no obligation to give one to a wacky foreign tourist like me, but there it was. I could only conclude that charging so much to ship a box was morally offensive to him, and he had the freedom to do something about it, and so he did.

It’s kind of morally offensive to me too, frankly. $900 is a huge amount of money. But on the other hand, I have an object twice the size of the average suitcase, and I’m asking a company to transport it over an ocean about 1/4 of the way around the entire planet, and deliver it right to the front door of a specific house, without damaging it, in less than a week. And I want them to do this without my oversight, while I’m off doing something else, and not screw it up. What’s that supposed to cost?

I admit, if the man hadn’t given me a discount, I would have tried to bargain for one. But I would have eventually accepted the bill no matter what, because I really like my bike, and I really like keeping it safe in this box, and these boxes are really hard to find … and so on. It’s a complicated problem, and I’m lucky there’s even one way to solve it, even if that way is expensive.

It reminds me of what my friend Tavys says about batteries and electricity:

“You have a battery. You have a machine you want to power. But the voltages are different, so you get a converter. You look at the specs and it says you lose 10% of the power from the battery, just to do the conversion. That seems crazy, right? Well, only if you don’t know how complicated the problem is, turning one voltage into another without losing power. And trust me, it’s really complicated. Besides, if you don’t do any conversion, you can’t use the battery at all, and that makes the power loss 100% right? 10% loss is way better than 100%!”

Anyway, while the paperwork printed and he ran my credit card, I applied some additional tape to the box and we chatted about traveling the island and the weather projections. I used all the tape I brought and it still didn’t seem like enough. Another note for next time…

I showed him a picture of the bike. He seemed pleased that I was traveling in a slower way than the usual tourists, and wished me a good journey. I walked over to the airport, then caught the shuttle scheduled at the top of the next hour and rode it back to the hotel. Box handled!

It was now evening – at least according to my watch – and I was hungry, so I visited the cafe I’d grown fond of on the last visit.

Cafe Petite in Keflavik
Excitedly showing me the sketches for the remodel.
The local motto of Cafe Petite
Piggy bank butt! Oink!
My gut says this is Bach or Mozart, but I'm probably wrong.
One of my favorite bands.
Comfy and eclectic.
I just love old maps. Even when they're useless artistic prints on bathroom walls.

No one else was there when I arrived, so I got to chat with the proprietor for a while. He was glad that business was picking up again, and showed me some sketches of plans for a remodel of the cafe. He almost had enough money saved up. He said he could actually make money a bit faster if he put out a tip jar, but had strong feelings against it.

“I think a tip jar is just thievery.  People in Iceland get paid a living wage.  But it’s complicated, because sometimes visitors feel obligated to leave a tip, or the custom is too strong and they feel weird if they don’t.  So I have a jar at the end of the bar there.”

He pointed to a glass jar hidden partway behind a plant.

“But I don’t label it.  Really though, don’t tip.  It’s just businesses taking money for no reason here.  It’s almost stealing.”

“I see what you mean,” I said. “Yeah, I wish it was like that back in the U.S.  Employers can hire someone and pay them very little, because they count on making money from tips.  But then they also take a cut of the tips. That’s just sick.  It’s like, people are trying to be nice, but they’re undermining the need for a living wage. And now they feel like it’s compulsory, with this electronic stuff. You hand out a tip at the beginning of the transaction, before anyone does anything. What kind of sense does that make?”

He nodded. “Yeah.  Also it’s confusing for me when I travel. I was back in the ‘States, and I gave a tip to a waiter who did a really good job.  My friends told me that he doesn’t actually get the money; it goes into a pot and all the waiters get a cut, and also the chef in the back.  It gets split evenly, so…  How do I reward good service?  And if a waiter is doing badly, the other waiters will want to punish them, because they don’t bring in as much tips.  Plus the taxes are different in every state.  I feel bad if I don’t tip, but how much is right?  So, I don’t know.  But there’s two things I tell everyone who comes to Iceland:  One, don’t tip for anything.  And two, don’t buy the bottled water.  The water from the tap is better.  And it hasn’t been sitting in a plastic bottle on a shelf for who-the-eff-knows how long, pardon my language.”

I like this guy.

Mmm. The first of probably many slices of cake.

This time I was ready for the fully electronic payment system. Between 2019 and 2021 it had spread extremely rapidly back home, and was now the default payment method for nearly everything. No hands touching money — perfect for pandemic safety.

I ordered a tasty looking slice of cake, and what I’ve decided to call an Icelandic-style mocha, which is more like an elaborate hot chocolate with coffee mixed in. They call it a “Swiss Mocha.” I ain’t complaining — it’s delicious!

A familiar-looking painting.

There’s that guy again… I suppose it’s time for me to hit the internet and try and figure out who he actually is.

Aha. It’s a painting of a fisherman by a German-born artist named Harry Haerendel. Apparently it’s become popular in a semi-ironic way. “You come to Iceland thinking about stoic old fisherman, yeah? Okay, here he is. The rest of us don’t fish much, but he does.”

After my pie and coffee, I went riding around in search of more substantial food, and came upon a tiny little fish and chips shop:

Room enough to dine in ... For maybe three people!

While I chomped my order inside and away from the wind, I read the little “about us” poster they were displaying on the wall:

The charming story of this tiny Fish And Chips shop.

Across the street I could see a situation unfolding that I’d never seen during my previous visit. A police officer pulling over a motorist.

It's the coppers!!

A little more riding around town and I came upon something I never thought I’d see in Iceland: A vandalized car.

Local hoodlums must have stolen this car and taken it for a joyride?

It's pretty messed up in here. What are the rocks for?

For a brief moment it was just like being back in Oakland. And not in a fun way.

But then I saw something that made me laugh out loud, as I was riding back to the hotel for a nap:


I suppose you have to be of “a certain age” now to find it funny that a shop is making an oblique reference to “Olsen twins”. (But it’s not really worth explaining, so if you don’t get it, go poke the internet…)

I crawled into my hotel bed and tried to sleep for five whole hours, but tossed and turned with my brain racing instead. “Don’t Stop Believin'” kept echoing around in my head, to my extreme annoyance. The restaurant I used to frequent back in Santa Cruz would play that song every night as they shut down, and I’d grown to dread the way the few remaining patrons would burst into song during the chorus. Now it was filling the silence of this room. Arrgh!

I had coffee but it was seven hours ago.  Would it still be that strong? Was my resistance to Icelandic coffee weaker? Is this some ricochet from jet-lag?

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