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OBLIGATORY FILLER MATERIAL – Just take a hard left at Daeseong-dong…2

Continuing
“Perhaps that might actually work better.” Agent Rack agrees, after all, he’s been looking at the list of team members and their departure points. I’m the only one from the Middle East, the rest are from Russia, Europe, or places way up north.
“Rack, let me look at the grouping of team members”, I say, “There’s got to be something better than your fly and schlep scheme.”
‘Fine, Doctor. It is, after all, your project.” Agent Rack relates, “Email me with your updated ideas and itinerary.” He says and hangs up.
“Damn”, I snipe, “I knew I should have asked for more than 3x my day rate. No trip is worth this much all fired ready aggravation…”
I get a new cigar, refresh my Greenland coffee, and get to the list of folks I’ll be working with for the next few weeks.
“Sindy?”, I ask my computer, “Open ‘Agent Rack mail #2’ please”.
There’s a grinding of hard drives, satellites are linking up in outer space, computer banks at NASA are lighting off. There's a teletype in Virginia annoyed at being awoken at this ungodly early hour.
A few minutes later, I am reading over my list. Quite the collection.
Two geologists: A Russian, Dr. Morskoy Utes, and a Brit, Dr. Clifford Swandon.
Two geophysicists: A Russian, Dr. Volna Sglazhivaniye, and one Swede, Dr. Aktiv Vågformme.
Two Reservoir Engineers: An Dutch, Dr. Vijver Monteur, and Portuguese, Dr. Graciano Guimarães.
One geomechanic: A Bulgarian, Dr. Iskren Dragomirov Dinev .
Two geochemists: A Canadian, ‘eh, Dr. Erlen Meyer, and a Russian, Dr. Academician Ivan Ivanovich Khimik.
One Petroleum Technologist: A Finn, Dr. Joonatan Vedenalaiset
And one Petrophysicist: A Canadian, Dr. Dax Aceron
And yours truly, Dr. Rocknocker, The Motherfucking Pro from Dover, makes for 12.
Such a nice, round, woody number.
OK, let’s see, before we get to particulars.
Countries of origin: Russia, England, Sweden, USA by way of the Middle East, Finland, Bulgaria, and Canada.
All northern hemispherical types; for the most part.
Great. We can all meet in London and fly British Airways directly to Beijing. Then, it’s Air China to Pyongyang. Besides, I’ll still get my frequent flyer miles and I don’t want to fly Aeroflot if I can avoid it.
I send Agent Rack an Email defining my ideas. He writes back within an hour OK’ing the plan. He will make plans for all of us to meet in London, spend a night at the airport Hilton Garden Inn, then off to Beijing. Then, after a quick layover, on to Pyongyang, Best Korea.
To history. And beyond!
However, there are a few logistical problems that need to be overcome.
With this Cheap-Ass Mexican Beer virus crisis, there’s no flights out of my present home country.
How will Esme make it back to the states and I to London, where there, at least, they’re a bit less ridiculously paranoid, and I can catch a commercial flight out to China?
Calling Agent Rack and Ruin…
With a bit of Agency of intervention, Esme and I are to be transported via one of the military’s flying war machines. It will deposit Esme in Abu Dhabi where she will catch a direct flight to the Windy City.
They say they may slow down before they kick me out in Dubai to catch the BA flight to London. They already know me from previous adventures.
There. All done and dusted. I love flying first class, as it were.
Now, logistics.

Esme is packed and ready to go in less than an hour. Most of her luggage is stuffed with gifts and other sorts of Middle Eastern tat for the folks back home. We haven’t been back to the states in quite some time; there will be much rejoicing.
However, I will have to hear of it second hand. I’m going to Best Korea and have no idea what the climate’s like other than its Oriental Continental. Most of North Korea is classified as being of a humid continental climate within the Köppen climate classification scheme, with warm summers and cold, dry winters.
Currently in the upper teens centigrade, winds light and variable 10 to 130 kilometers per hour, it’ll be a nice day if the tornadoes stay away.
Well now, that’s like mail from home. Equable weather in an unequable land.
Hawaiian shirts? The most garish. Exploration vest? Of course. Field boots? But of course. Ah, hell, the usual travel wardrobe. Into the silver aluminum travel cases go the Scottish high-calf woolen socks, Stetson, cargo shorts, one pair of long chinos, the usual undergarments, spare lighters, cigar-cutters, emergency flasks, flint and steel (just in case), generic Northern European Armed-Services knife with built-in cigar cutter, a couple of fueled Zippos, a couple of different sized Cow-Hide Men tools, a handful of cheap-o butane lighters, bags of beef and camel jerky…just the absolute necessities.
In my day pack, which never leaves my side, are my cigars, cigarettes for gifts, some emergency rations; like a spare pint of bourbon, one of vodka, and some Dammitol in case of headaches. Plus, field notebooks, pens, pencils, hand lens, various geological-geophysical cheat sheets, tickets, visas, tourist passes, and all that other world-traveling guff.
Looks like we’re both ready to travel. I get on the horn with one or the other of my favorite agency denizens and tell them we’re ready to go.
Agent Ruin notes positive and tells us he’ll dispatch our transport to the airport forthwith.
I’m out in front of our villa and the whole city is a god damned ghost town. Virtually no road traffic and absolutely no air traffic. It’s eerily quiet. The whole city’s taking a siesta. Or in a coma…hard to tell which.
I’m scanning the roads looking for our taxi to the airport when the still silence of the scene is split by the sonorous resonant THUMP-THUMP-THUMP-THUMP of a heavy helicopter.
Not just any “Oh, look, Mummy. Up in the sky”, helicopter.
This is a huge black US military transport helicopter and it’s FUCKING LANDING IN THE EMPTY LOT ACROSS THE STREET.
Remind me to be slightly nice to the collective agents next time we meet.
Once the sand, grime, and assorted desert dust settles down, I’m locking the villa as two Airmen are storing our luggage aboard the large black ominous-looking black transport black helicopter.
They escort Esme and me to the passenger compartment. They could see me being crestfallen when they refused to let me ride up front. I mean, I am a fully licensed helicopter pilot.
“Oh, insurance rules and stuff. Right”.
We don our new 3M™ Peltor™ Hummingbird™ Headsets and are asked, very nicely, to strap in as in mere moments, we will be taking off for the local airport.
I smile at Esme and beam: “I told ya’. Stick with me and you’ll go places.”
The way she smiled back at me sustained me throughout my trip above the 38th parallel. I resolved to do my damnedest to bring her back something very nice.
With a smooth, graceful leap due up, we’re airborne. The few neighbors that came out to see us off waved briefly and rapidly became as ants as we titled forward, opened the taps, and hauled ass to the local International airport.
No “International or Business” this time. We landed way the holy earthenware fuck over on the north side of the airport. That clandestine place where all the strange and secretive military aircraft were parked and surreptitiously maintained.
We flared in and, light as an anvil landed. We waited the proscribed few minutes while the airship spooled down and we were allowed egress.
Out of the chopper, across 150 meters of tarmac and into the waiting abdomen of a Lockheed C-130 Hercules. Our luggage was already being stowed in the belly the beast, and we were ushered into the cavernous interior of the plane.
This plane, as I was told, could carry up to 90 passengers, 72 troops, or 65 paratroops.
Today, it would carry Esme, me, and a skeleton crew to Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
We’d be landing first at Abu Dhabi to get Esme sorted out, then wheels up for approximately 5 air-minutes, then back to feet dry at Dubai International Airport. There I would be unceremoniously tossed off the plane and left to my own devices.
The flight crew were fully briefed and truth be told, I’d met several of them in varying circumstances over the years. They knew I was mostly harmless, but somewhat of an eccentric VIP, hence the flight, and they gave me no end of shit about it.
For that, I really appreciated and liked these guys and gals.
I walked Esme to the local international airline's flight desk in Abu Dhabi, business, of course, and deposited her luggage.
“Guess this is it, hon. Have a great time in the States and don’t let the Covids bite. Be sure to give the girls my love.”
“When will you be back, so I can plan my return trip?” Es askes.
“No earthly idea. It could be a month, could be three. I’ll get word to your mother, you guys will be checking in with her all the time anyways. Let’s play it loose and have some fun with all this. Now, off to the Lounge with you; get a massage, and relax. You’ve got 8 hours to burn before you even load up.” I said.
We embrace, kiss smoochily, even though we could get put away for PDA (Public Display of Affection) which is still a misdemeanor here in the lovely, cosmopolitan Middle East; an electric courtesy cart arrives to take Es to the combined Emirates First and Business Class lounge.
“See you soonest”, I say as the cart whisks her away. She waves and tries to camouflage her wiping her eyes. She’s always emotional before I travel to strange places around the globe.
I saunter out the door and back across the tarmac to my transport ship. I’m getting this Captain Kirk vibe being the only one being transported on the flight, and decide to christen the Herkybird “The Enterprise”.
Now, do I go all Bill Shatner or Patrick Stewart?
I arrive at the loading platform and there are a couple of airmen lolling around smoking cigarettes. They’re well away from the aircraft and legal, although I thought the military would have kittens if they knew of this.
I have some 5 hours to kill before my flight to London. I wander over to chat with the airmen and fire up a cigar. Since we’re probably not going to be leaving for a few hours, I offer them tots from one of my emergency flasks.
But, with the Modelo Virus about, one airman begs off and returns moments later with some small, disposable paper Dixie cups.
Necessity, the mother of invention.
We chatted, swapped stories, and they were amazed that I was actually looking forward to going to Best Korea.
They basically informed me that was a post no one wanted. It was a place where one went to watch their military career die.
It was tedious, yet tense.
Important, yet mundane.
Above all, it was massively boring.
Nothing of any substance even happened there and one hoped for that to continue. Yet, some long stripers would relate that even a small thermonuclear exchange would be welcomed to break up the tedium.
I parted with a couple of cigars as we felt and heard the engines of the Hercules being rekindled back into life.
We all scurried onto the plane and after some preliminary warnings, we were wheels up and headed to Dubai International Airport.
And then we were taxiing to the VIP arrivals terminal some 8 minutes later.
Fuck, I hate these long flights. Sure, I could have cabbed it from Abu Dhabi to Dubai, but they were headed this way anyways, so…
Into the arrivals area with all my baggage and a very nice US female airman accompanying me to the British Airways desk. She was wheeling my gear. I felt like such a cad, but I rapidly got over it.
We were at check-in, she made certain I had my passport, visas, tourist and landing cards, and everything else necessary for the trip.
“Yes, thank you, Sr. Airman Mother”, I joked.
She actually blushed a bit. I could have been her grandfather.
Gad. I hated writing that sentence.
She made certain everything was A-OK and a go. We shook hands, and she departed back to the waiting Hercules and back to their local home here in the maddening Middle East.
The airport was dead. Really dead. In fact, I’ve never seen it deader. Call in the bulldozers. Turn this place into a parking lot…
Dubai International is usually a fucking madhouse. It has always been nuts - a shopping mall trying to be an airport. Today, one could have held RC plane flight races around every concourse.
No weird-ass disenfranchised form god-knows-where bums out bothering and panhandling you. No madding crowds trying to sweep you against your will to a far and distant, not to mention, unusable, terminal. Duty-Free shops. Some closed, but the cigar and booze kiosks are open.
Whew. That’s a relief.
I’m checked in flight-wise and the nice BA gate person has to ask me why I’m going where my baggage says I am.
“I’m an agent of the United States, on a super-secret mission to find oil and gas in the best Korea on the planet.”
Her look and raised eyebrow said “Oh, pooh.”, although she smiled and said “Ah. That’s nice.”
Hey. I was telling the truth…
Well, I had some time in an almost deserted airport with a load of pre-flight cash, a hungry look in my eye, and a cheeseburger in my pocket; but that latter story will have to wait for a later time.
My bags were ostensibly ticketed to Pyongyang, but also Beijing. I’d have to check and see if they got transferred to Air China once we arrived. No worries, we should have plenty of layover time in China.
So, off to a leisurely stroll through Duty-Free.
“Oh, this looks nice. Oh. And this. Hmmm…Wild Turkey 101 Rye. That’s a two’fer. Ah, here’s the Duty-Free humidor. Camachos? By the Great Horn Spoon! They have triple maduros. 4 boxes of these go in the cart.” I giggled like a giddy old aunt.
A few bundles of cheap-ass cigars to use as gifts and bribes. Oh, yes. They love to smoke cigarettes in Best Korea. I load up three cartons of Sobranie pastel-colored Cocktail cigarettes.
At least, this way I’d know in an instant who I’ve already graced with my munificence.
Thus sated, I pay for my prizes, and decide to wander off to the Business Class lounge. I have hours left and well, boredom was settling in.
Or, I could go, as I have for years, to the Irish Pub, have a pint of nitrogen-charged Guinness, a bowl of ‘authentic’ Irish Stew and a nice smoke afterwards. I think it’s one of the few places left on the planet where you can actually sit at a bar, have a drink, and smoke without everyone going all C. Everett Koop on your hapless ass.
Oh, sure. In Business class everything’s free. At the Irish Pub, I’d have to pay.
Fuck it. I made a beeline to the Irish Pub.
It’s damn near-deserted. So much so, in fact, I’m seated immediately.
This is odd. It’s never happened before. This place is usually SRO.
Of course, I order a nitrogen-charged pounder of Guinness, a bowl of Irish Stew, a side of their famous real onion rings and a couple of shots of genuine rye whiskey just because.
Sated to the gills, I was feeling fine as I watch the abbreviated sports review on the telly. I dug deep into my recent purchases and drag out a triple maduro Camacho cigar.
No, I’m not shilling for Camacho cigars, they’re just one of my favorite go-to brands. However, if there’s anyone out there that’s affiliated with Camacho cigars, or Wild Turkey Rye and Bourbon, I’d certainly listen to any ideas you might have for sponsorship of this little forum.
Anyways, I was talking with the Sri Lankan bartender, Tharushi. I was, of course, regaling him with one of my endless supply of rude and ribald jokes when I hear a voice say:
“Why don't you save that rapier-like wit for the cheeseheads back home, Rock?
“Tharushi, did I ever tell you of the frustrated petrophysicist Dr. Dax Aceron who’s legendary prowess with a fishing rod is such that he couldn’t catch a cold buck-naked, sitting in a freezer with his feet in a bucket of Moscow river water?”
“Dr. Dax? How the hell are you?” I spin to see my old petrophysical buddy from many long best-forgotten global campaigns.
“Dr. Rock. I am doing fine. Better than fine. I’m going to Best Korea and I know personally the team leader. How the hell are you, you old troublemaker?”
“Dax. What are you doing here? I thought we’d meet up in London.”
“Yeah, that was the plan”, he explained, “I let them think I was still in Calgary. I was actually over here in Dubai doing a little side work. Totally under the table. Completely off the books. You know, the usual. Now give me a cigar and buy me a drink. I do believe it’s your round.”
“So, Dax”, I say, “Flying BA to London in”, as I look at my watch, “three and a half hours?”
“Yeah.” He halfheartedly replies.
“Problem? “I ask.
“Yeah”, he snorts, “Going baggage class. Can’t afford Business. Work’s been kinda thin on the chin lately.”
“Pish and tiddle”, I reply, “Tharushi, please call the BA front desk for me, if you would”, as I slide a US$20 across the bar.
“Yes sir, Doctor Rock, sir!” he rapidly replies.
<RINGRINGRING> “BA front desk”.
“Yes, hello. This is Dr. Rocknocker. I’m sending over one Dr. Dax Aceron with my BA Rhodium Thunder Frequent Flyers card. Please upgrade him to Business on BA Flight 106 to London departing in some 3.5 hours. My security code is <mumblemumblemumble>. Got that? Great. Thank you.”
“Here Dax”, as I hand him my frequent flyer's card, “Go to the BA desk and get yourself upgraded. I’ll sit here and keep the bar from running away. Now, begone with thee.”
Dr. Dax is all smiles as he lights off for the BA desk.
Oh, I could have gone and handled it all, but there was this one crucial problem.
I didn’t want to.
I order another Guinness and light up my cigar anew. This already had the earmarks of an epic adventure.
After a beer or eight and associated shots, I pour Dr. Dax into the courtesy cart and we’re whisked off to our departure gate. Normally, this would take full portions of an hour, the crowds would be so thick. Today, we’re at the most distal of the departure gates and we made it there from the Irish Pub in less than 7 minutes.
The plane was mostly empty. The ground crew did a desultory check of our passport and visas and told us basically to ‘sit wherever you want’.
“We’re already business class.” I replied.
“I hope someone else was buying your tickets.” Was the response.
Dax and I got to our Business Class seats and get comfortable.
We looked around and First Class was full, Business Class had one or two open seats and coach? Well, pretty much empty except for those souls who wanted a whole row to themselves to rack out on the upcoming 7.5-hour journey.
I asked if could get my Dr. Dax Business Class upgrade miles back.
The flight attendant said that ‘she’ll see’. It was more of a rhetorical question, based on the absurdity of international flights these days of scary infectious diseases and global idiocy.
The plane was probably 1/5th full. If we played our cards right and Dr. Dax and I could have our own private airline cabin attendant.
With a minimum of fuss and puling, after the obligatory “Please. Just sit back, enjoy our flight and don’t do anything stupid” lectures, in English, Arabic, and Dutch for some reason, we pushed back, rolled out and were heading off to our take-off position.
It’s Zombie Apocalypse time out here; without the drooling creatures lusting for brains; which is odd, even for Dubai. The airport’s dead, few ground vehicles scurrying around, and very, very few planes doing much of anything. We rolled into takeoff position, sat for less than a full minute, and suddenly went 110% throttle.
“Adios, Dubai. See you on the flip side.” I said to no one in particular, saluting the city one digit at a time.
We were wheels up so fast, I didn’t even get the obligatory “Welcome aboard, Dr. Rock, here’s your complimentary pre-takeoff drink”.
I sought to alleviate that sordid situation straightaway.
We leveled out and were headed generally north-northwestward when I waylaid the unsuspecting cabin-crew worker.
“Hello. How are we today? Good. Good. Might I trouble you for a drink?” I asked, sweeter than 1.23 kilos of jaggery.
“You’ll get a drink when I’m good and ready to get you a drink”, she barked back like an Alligator Snapping turtle with tertiary clap and barbed-wire undies.
“Now, now. See here, Miss. There’s no reason for all this. All I’d like is...” I tried to continue.
“Yeah. We know. ‘Vodka. Ice. Sliced limes. Bitter Lemon’, right? We’ll you’ll get that when I get around to it. Not before.” She snarled back.
“Evidently my reputation does precede me,” I said, somewhat perplexed and a bit miffed. I never am nasty to those who serve my alcohol, so I was genuinely perplexed at this turn of affairs.
“Yeah”, I hear a familiar voice from the back of the plane, “Everyone in existence knows of the one and only Dr. Rocknocker.”
What the actual fuck?
I swivel around and standing there with a shit-eating grin some representational three kilometers wide is Toivo.
“Toivo? What the actual flying fuck? What the hell are you doing in Dubai?” I asked.
“Paying the cabin crew real money to give you a hard time.” He laughs, as the red-faced cabin attendant hands both me and Toivo a drink.
Toivo is sputtering along in delighted laughter.
Dr. Dax is out like a light, snuffling his way westward.
“That still doesn’t answer my question, Toiv: what the blinkered hell are you doing in Dubai?” asked again.
“Well, you know I own an oilfield service company. Most everyone is in a global lockdown, but I can afford to fly where I want when I want. Only ‘essential’ employees are at the office. What better time to drop by some oil companies Middle Eastern HQs, make an impression, and try to drum up some business? If nothing else, they’ll remember me when the need comes for oil field servicing.” He laughs.
“Well, I can’t argue with the logic, but I might with the execution. Why not move up here into Business and we’ll catch up?” I ask.
“Nah, Rock. I’m bushwhacked. I got a nice, little row of four seats all laid out as my own, private Idaho. I’ve got in-flight entertainment, a patented ‘Dr. Rocknocker’ never-emptying glass and a desire to count high-velocity aerial sheep. Give me a few hours kip and I’ll come back and we can catch up. Deal?” he asks.
“Sure. No problem. Just don’t ask what I’m up to because it’s super-secret, really dangerous, and ridiculously ‘Eyes-only’ confidential. Have a nice nap.” I smile and turn back to my drink.
Toivo slowly rises and head back to his nest, shaking his head over what I was on about this time.
“Fuck with my beverage service? OK. I fuck with your head”, I smile quietly to myself.
“Why, yes, I’d love another. Could you make it a double?” I ask the flight attendant, who has now recovered her previous bit of Toivo-induced embarrassment She was well on her way to redeeming herself mightily in the eyes of this grizzled world traveler.
I spent the flight time writing up my field notes. I devised a brand-new form of encryption that no one would be able to break; except for me, of course. I planted primers through the coded entries to remind me how simple this code was, but how unbreakable the code would be if the people trying to decode it weren’t, well, me. There were little asides and personal accounts linked to the decryption key that would be impossible, I fervently hoped, for anyone without certain key pieces of history, to unravel.
I’m going to a primitive and paranoid place, and I’m the one sweating the encryption of my hand written notes.
Weird.
I built up a file system on my really cheap ass-looking Toshiba laptop that would prove to be impenetrable to anyone short of a batch of NSF Crays with nothing to do for the next geological epoch. It was an old, beat-up looking, field notebook computer, circa 1999.
However, looks can be deceiving.
I had it juiced with all the latest computer gizmos and gimcracks that brought its guts right up to 2020 or possibly beyond. It had 6 TB Samsung 860 PRO, 2.5" SSD, with all the attendant bells and whistles according high-juice operating systems today. It runs on Win 7 because I hate Win 10 but it also runs on Windows XP. I had my computer guru do whatever it’s called so I could run both systems simultaneously so I could show it doing XP things to a concerned TSA agent when it really was running Win 7 covertly in the background.
This thing could, in a pinch, process raw seismic data.
The logic? Well, I show customs and that crowd, and it’s an old, beat-up geologist’s field electronic notebook. In the hotel room, I can activate it’s alter ego and have access to all the goodies I need that frankly are equivalent or better than my workstation back home
Truth be told, it’s an old ploy that Rack and Ruin suggested. There are even some packages of ones and zeros that had originated from some shady place in the hills of the East Coat of the US swimming around the guts of the thing. This makes for the ideal situation to keep prying eyes where they belong and yet still allow me to have the access to all my latest geological, geophysical, and petrophysical software; as well as communication and snooping programs.
We secured permission to bring in one laptop or iPad per person on this trip; so I decided with the paucity of the internet in the place I was headed, I’d bring along my satellite lash up and the necessary computer to drive it. No one, unless they’re really tech-savvy, which I‘m not, would realize I have a fully functional satellite Internet machine in that old beat up Toshiba notebook facade and those couple of bags of adapters, wall warts, and patch cords.
That all done, I ordered another drink, pick a bit at the Full English Breakfast I thought sounded good until it arrived, and read some of the latest newspapers.
COVID-19! ALARM! RUN IN CIRCLES! SCREAM AND SHOUT!
Oh, bother.
Toivo finally arrives back from his little trip to the land of Nod and sits down in the unoccupied seat next to mine. We have some time and need every minute to catch up. I must say, thus far, it was the most agreeable part of the trip. It was good to see an old face from back home.
Toivo’s staying in London for a few days, trying to drum up some North Sea business, then he’s back to Houston via Mexico City and overland to Matamoros. The things as citizens that we’re forced to do under the guise of security.
We’re readying for landing when Dr. Dax finally wakes up. He just has time for his morning ablutions before we land in sunny ol’ England.
I had printed out the list of attendees and first thing, after we deplaned, went through all the passport and customs folderol, got to the hotel, checked in and had a couple of drinks. Then I’d requisition a conference room in the hotel for all of us to meet before our flight out to China the next day.
That’s why I get the big money. I can plan logistically like a motherfucker.
Dax and I get through all the entrance formalities and I arrange for our baggage to be sent to the hotel, which is connected to the airport Terminal 4. It was a near thing, though, as we were some of the last guests who were allowed to stay at the hotel before it closed due to the whole Bad Mexican Beer virus absurdity.
However, our rooms wouldn’t be available for a couple of hours, but they’d keep our bags for us until we decide to show up. So, with time in an airport to kill, where else do we go?
Off to the nearest bar.
It was a long walk to our hotel, and since we didn’t care to walk after being locked in an aluminum tube for the last 8+ hours, we found the first pub right after we sorted out our bags with BA. It overlooked the international arrivals area, and had a ringside seat to the comings, but not goings, of international adventurers.
So we were sitting in the Pogo Lounge of the London International Airport...in the patio section, of course, drinking Singapore Slings with mescal on the side.
Dax and I ordered several drinks as I wanted something different for a change. We sat back, got comfortable, and wanted to fire up cigars, but here in the Northern Hemisphere of late, that would probably be an executable offense.
“Y’know, Dax”, I said between sips of a really fine cocktail, “We’ll probably be seeing all our compatriots walk right on by us here. We should let them know that we’re here.”
As another aside, all the team members of this little excursion spoke English. I didn’t mention that until right now because I didn’t think it important, but I suppose it is. With the translations to the native language, to and fro, of where we’re going; additional languages would have just fuckered our timetable, which was long enough as it stood.
Dax agreed, procured some crayons, literally, and a paper placemat and ginned up a fairly credible International Union of Petroleum Geological Sciences (IUPGS) logo and our names for all to see.
So much for anonymity, inconspicuousness, and clandestineness.
Ha! With this bunch? Hardly…
Dax and I ordered another round which arrived expediently, as we pretty much had the lounge to ourselves.
It was weird hanging around a place that I’ve never before seen without bustling, hustling, thronging mobs of people. There were a few fellow travelers, but it was like after a great conflagration, a reverse decimation, where instead of only 10% of the population being laid waste, it was 90% and we were part of the lucky 10% of survivors.
“Yes, thank you. ”, I said to the smiling barkeep. I didn’t know you could double a Singapore Sling. The more you know…
Dax and I sat there enjoying our libations. Well, I was. Dax was having the damnedest of times keeping up; not that I asked him to or challenged him in any way. I was itchily lusting for a good smoke; those Dubai Camachos were taunting me just a foot or two away in my field pack.
To be continued…
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Business of Fashion interview with James Jebia

I just horribly scraped this off BOFs site. You need a membership to actually read. Formating may be messed up and images are missing so please don't complain.
BY CHANTAL FERNANDEZAPRIL 3, 2019 05:30
NEW YORK, United States — In mid-March, Italian police, acting as part of operation “Golden Brand,” released a video showing a storeroom stacked high with boxes from which officers pulled products covered in shiny plastic sleeves. Most of the items — T-shirts, sandals, even skateboards — were branded with the distinctive box logo made famous by Supreme, though, of course, none of them were actually made by the New York-based streetwear giant. In a statement, the Italian authorities said that, in total, they had seized 700,000 counterfeit items worth €10 million as part of an investigation into the sale of counterfeit streetwear, which they characterised as a “new insidious phenomenon.”
Supreme knock-offs, from T-shirts to cigarette lighters, can be found all over the world, from Canal Street in New York City to the souks of Marrakech. The market for these counterfeits has thrived in part because distribution of genuine Supreme product is so tightly controlled. Its goods are available only at the brand’s 11 stores, via its website and at Dover Street Market, often in small batches released in weekly “drops," meaning that demand often far outweighs supply. Most items sell out online less than 10 seconds after they are made available.
Manufactured scarcity is a key part of Supreme’s incredible success. Over the last 25 years, the brand has grown from a single store on New York’s Lafayette Street that served as a de facto clubhouse for local skaters to a billion-dollar streetwear juggernaut that, in 2017, attracted investment from private equity giant the Carlyle Group, which paid around $500 million for roughly 50 percent stake in the business. Its red box logo, itself inspired by the signature style of artist Barbara Kruger, is now recognised worldwide.
But Supreme’s global profile, coupled with the scarcity of its product, has also exposed the company to sophisticated opportunists. The biggest thorn in Supreme’s side is Italy’s International Brand Firm (IBF) and a series of up to eight affiliated companies, known primarily as Supreme Italia and Supreme Spain to consumers. The company has brazenly set up Supreme-branded storefronts and websites in Italy, Spain and China that look real enough. It has filed trademark registrations using the word “Supreme” and versions of its logo in as many as 50 countries including Spain, Portugal and Israel. It has challenged Supreme for its trademark in international courts, and it has promised to open 70 more stores selling look-a-like Supreme goods.
All told, IBF appears to be doing swift business in what some call “legal fakes” because, according to Susan Scafidi, founder and director of the Fashion Law Institute at Fordham University's School of Law, the items fall in a legal grey area of trademark squatting. Even before IBF targeted Supreme, the streetwear brand faced an uphill battle in trademark registrations: its name has been considered too general and descriptive by some courts.
In 2017, IBF generated £514,000 (about $679,000) in revenue, according to public filings for part of its business. But if its plans to open new distribution channels go ahead, that number could grow significantly.
IBF’s activities made international headlines last December when Samsung announced a product collaboration with Supreme at a press conference in China. The South Korean giant welcomed someone it believed to be the chief executive of the streetwear business to the stage. “Today is Supreme’s official debut in the Chinese market,” said the person on stage with Feng En, Samsung’s head of digital marketing for Greater China, promising to open several stores in the country including a seven-story flagship in Beijing. Only later, after a backlash on the internet, did Samsung seem to discover that they were dealing not with the New York-based Supreme, but with the IBF-controlled Supreme Italia, and canceled the partnership.
In March, a Supreme-branded store opened on Middle Huaihai Road, one of Shanghai’s busiest retail streets, attracting a line of curious consumers wondering if the world’s most coveted streetwear brand had finally set up shop in China. Inside, shoppers can now find T-shirts and hoodies branded with oversized logos and tagged as “Supreme Spain” for 599RMB (about $90) to 1,599 RMB (about $240), as well as skateboard decks, backpacks and other accessories.
“I don’t think another company has really had to deal with this like we have,” said Supreme founder James Jebbia in a rare interview. “This is a whole new level with this criminal enterprise — these complete imposters and impersonators. This is a company that was able to convince one of the biggest companies in the world [Samsung] that they are the real thing.”
It would be sad if a new generation thinks that’s actually legit.
“People should know that the idea of legal fakes is a complete farce,” he said. “It would be sad if a new generation thinks that’s actually legit,” Jebbia added, likening IBF’s ability to spread disinformation to how “fake news” can easily be spread online today. “We don’t do a ton of press and we are quite quiet. These guys are taking full advantage of that… We haven’t had the time to basically go on this massive disinformation tirade or press thing that most people would.”
Some have chalked up Supreme’s counterfeiting woes to its failure to register its trademark faster than imposters in global markets — where trademarks are often awarded to companies that are first to file them, not first to use them — as the streetwear label grew more quickly than it was able to professionalise. Others say Supreme has little choice but to accept the situation.
But the truth is more complicated. For over two years, Supreme has fought its counterfeiters in the courts as it lobbies for trademark recognition in China and with the European Union Intellectual Property Office, jurisdictions in which no company yet has these rights. (Supreme has registrations in several European countries, parts of Asia and the United States.) In China, for example, Supreme filed for trademarks five years ago, though its application is still pending. Supreme Italia and IBF also have pending applications in the country that were filed in March 2018.
For Supreme, this is a highly inconvenient and expensive problem. Though the company was unable to provide an estimate in dollar terms, the cost is not only felt in lost sales and legal fees but in damage to the brand's reputation. And it comes just as Supreme enters a post-Carlyle growth phase which is believed to include expansion into China, the world’s largest fashion market. (Firms like Carlyle, which do not hold businesses indefinitely, typically aim to rapidly grow their investments and then sell their stakes within five to seven years).
In 2017, the same year as the Carlyle deal, Supreme hired its first general counsel as part of a wider professionalisation drive that has included poaching Converse's ex-chief marketing officer and hiring the Boston Consulting Group to evaluate its supply chain. General counsel Darci J. Bailey is overseeing the company’s multi-pronged trademark registration and anti-counterfeiting strategy. Supreme said it now has over 350 trademark filings around the globe.
“There is not a jurisdiction in the world that’s said what [IBF is] doing is lawful,” said Bailey. “Opening stores is only going to yield a bigger victory once we are able to shut those down.” She said that in addition to copying its products, opening fake stores and impersonating Supreme executives, IBF has duplicated Supreme's invoices, shopping bags and signage. “They are really after our DNA,” Bailey said, adding that IBF offered to “sell our trademarks back to us,” but Supreme will not consider payoffs as a way to solve its trademark issues.
“We will not stop, we will not relent,” she said. Supreme has made the most progress in Italy, IBF’s home country, where Italian and San Marino courts have prohibited IBF and its affiliates from using the trademark, and police have conducted over 100 seizures of counterfeit Supreme goods.
IBF and its lawyers declined multiple requests for comment from BoF.
Supreme's lawyers created this graphic to demonstrate that Supreme Spain's mark (far right) will be confused with Supreme's logo (far left) | Source: EUIPO
For years, brands from Nike to Chanel have faced sophisticated counterfeiting operations and trademark squatters. But the tactics used by IBF reflect a new level of sophistication. “I’ve never seen any brand subject to press conferences where there are people who are hired to impersonate the CEO,” said Bailey. “I think that there is a lot of confusion in the marketplace.”
The confusion is particularly palpable in Spain and China, where IBF has actual stores and the genuine Supreme doesn’t. The New York-based label’s cautious approach to expansion — which goes hand-in-hand with its carefully cultivated street cred — is a powerful part of its appeal to consumers. But as the company grows its customer base beyond longtime devotees, who have studied message boards and Supreme fan accounts for tips and tricks on how to buy its releases, the label may become a victim of its quiet approach if new consumers are duped by the likes of IBF. Or if, even worse, they knowingly settle for counterfeits that, in the case of items like logo T-shirts and hoodies, may not appear radically different from the originals to more casual admirers of the brand. “I don’t think we have a difficult time communicating to our core customer — they know how to get it — but any expansion is where it becomes difficult,” said Bailey.
David Fisher, founder and chief executive of influential streetwear and youth culture title Highsnobiety, said that shoppers who only see Supreme as the fashion trend it has become in recent years are less aware of the history of the brand and can’t as easily discern between real and counterfeit items. “They are probably going to buy one T-shirt and hoodie and that’s it… I’m sure there are thousands of people who have that level of engagement with the brand,” he said.
A first-time shopper coming to Supreme’s website — which offers e-commerce for customers in the US, UK, Japan, most of Europe as well as Russia and Iceland — can see a list of the brand’s retail stores, for example, but would not know that new products are released on Thursdays. Or that in order to manage long lines outside its stores, Supreme now assigns shoppers a 15-minute time-slot via text-message lottery that allows them to enter the store on what longstanding customers call “drop days.” The website also does not warn shoppers about the proliferation of counterfeiters.
While the company is likely contemplating opening more retail channels — online and off — in new markets, many of its products (including its coveted box logo items) are still virtually impossible for many consumers to buy, especially in places like Spain, Italy and China, where Supreme does not have stores and where IBF has taken root.
In the 13 months ending in January 2018, Supreme generated £63 million ($83 million) in sales in the UK, Europe and other regions outside the United States, up 156 percent year over year, according to public filings in the UK.
“These fake Supreme [pieces] that appear now make the real Supreme not as popular as it once was,” said a college student in Madrid, Beltrand Montauzon, who has purchased Supreme items on the resale market when traveling abroad. “[Supreme Spain] is way more accessible for people who weren’t able to buy it, which is 99 percent of the population.”
Supreme is believed to be considering new stores in Milan, Berlin and San Francisco, but Jebbia declined to confirm any concrete plans. Existing stores include two in New York (the original Lafayette location is closed for renovations, but another store is open nearby on Bowery), one in Los Angeles, one in London, one in Paris, and six in Japan. “We certainly wouldn’t say, ‘Let’s open in Spain because these fakers have opened up a fake shop,’” he said. “We do look, but we aren’t in any massive rush; it can take years to find the right space,” Jebbia continued. Supreme generated £1.8 million ($2.3 million) in sales between 2013 and 2018 in Spain through online sales, according to documents filed by Supreme's lawyers with the EUIPO.
We certainly wouldn’t say, 'Let’s open in Spain because these fakers have opened up a fake shop.'
IBF was incorporated in November 2015 by Michele di Pierro, a Barletta, Italy native who was previously affiliated with an apparel distributor Grew Sport. His biography on Twitter states, “No one is indispensable” and on Pinterest, “Thirst for innovation.” IBF has boasted that it registered Supreme’s trademarks in Italy before the New York brand could. But in fact, IBF filed a month after the real Supreme did, in November 2015. Then, in January 2016, Supreme Italia is thought to have made its debut during menswear tradeshow Pitti Uomo, where attendees reported the company had set up a booth.
The real Supreme started fighting back in July 2016, taking its case to the Italian courts. After a series of civil and criminal suits in 2017, Italian and San Marino courts ordered an injunction against IBF and its use of the Supreme or Supreme Italia marks, and police started seizing counterfeit product the same year.
IBF, in response, began shifting its business to Spain, where it filed for a trademark in April 2017, five days before Supreme did, and started opening stores in Madrid, Barcelona, Malaga, Ibiza and Formentera the following summer. Supreme also filed with the European Union Intellectual Property Office, where the trademark is still pending registration. Later in 2017 and 2018, IBF filed with the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), where it has two active listings.
Meanwhile, IBF has been able to score points in the press. In July 2018, an Italian court in Trani unfroze IBF’s websites, even though the company was still barred from producing and selling products featuring Supreme branding. In October 2018, the European Union Intellectual Property Office said it would continue to consider Supreme’s trademark application, which IBF contested. Both of these developments were spun as wins for IBF by Italian streetwear blogs, particularly NSS and TheStreetwearMagazine.com, the latter of which Bailey said is published by IBF.

Supreme's new shop on Bowery in New York | Source: Courtesy
But Supreme isn’t backing down and is focusing on getting the EU-wide mark approved. “We are very confident we are going to get the trademark registration with the EU,” said Bailey.
Meanwhile, Supreme has obtained several trademark registrations in Spain, which IBF has opposed, but the proceedings are suspended until the EUIPO makes its ruling. Supreme is also trying to get Spanish courts to close IBF’s stores, but the relevant authorities have denied this request and Supreme is appealing.
Bailey said Supreme is also persevering in China, where she said the brand has been working closely with officials and is now “months away” from getting its trademarks registrations about four years after the application was first filed.
“It’s highly likely Supreme will create a lot of difficulty for Supreme Italia moving forward and may win,” said Scafidi. “Trademarks are born global; they cross borders without being stopped at customs and yet there is no way to simply protect a trademark globally.”
"We are doing every single thing that we can do to stop [IBF] and I think we are going to prevail,” said Jebbia, adding that although the complexity of running Supreme has certainly grown and the company was still in the process of bringing its operations up to speed, he was still animated by the same principles that guided him at the company's start. “I don’t think of it any differently today than I did 20 years ago. We’ve still got to make great products that hopefully people like and sell well. All we can do is go on instinct.”
Additional reporting by Zoe Suen and Sam Gaskin.
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