Category Archives: travel

Eating Around the World

My mother, my husband, and I (in different combinations) have had some amazing travel experiences. England. Brazil. Croatia. And, like good tourists, we largely ate and drank our way through the various countries. 

There was the trip that my mother and I took to Brazil. When we arrived at our Rio hotel, we were greeted by our guide, who offered us a complimentary local drink – a caipirinha. This is the national cocktail of Brazil, made from lime, sugar, and cachaca (a local spirit reminiscent of, but different from, rum). It’s a pretty potent combination. My mother, who would have the occasional Tom Collins or glass of Mogen David, did not care for it, so she gave it to me. I downed both hers and mine.

Then the other little old ladies who were on the tour (there were a fair number of them) had the same idea and all gave me their caipirinhas rather than let them go to waste. It’s a good thing we had arrived in the evening and had no other events planned for that night, as I sat in the hotel lobby and got thoroughly sozzled.

Mom was not with us when my husband and I went to England (though Dan’s mother was). We lunched at pubs and tried authentic fish and chips, but passed up an Australian restaurant because I insisted we weren’t in Australia. 

But the most interesting culinary attraction there was when I noticed “spotted dick” on the menu at the restaurant we had chosen. (Insert your favorite “spotted dick” joke here.) I had heard of spotted dick before, but never knew what it was, really. Apparently, it’s a dessert, because it was listed under “Puddings” on the menu. (As those of you who’ve seen Harry Potter know, “pudding” is generic British for “dessert.” It doesn’t mean actual pudding.)

Naturally, I couldn’t resist ordering it. I tried to muffle my chuckles, but no doubt the waiter was used to this sort of behavior from tourists. When he brought out the dessert, it was rather disappointingly a sort of spice cake with raisins in it, topped with a thin custard. (I think it might have been crême anglaise, but I didn’t know enough at the time to call it that.) Evidently, the raisins were the spots, though I don’t like to think what parted represented the dick. Especially with that custard sauce.

The best treat of all, though, was one my husband and I had when we were on a tour that featured Venice, Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia, and Montenegro. There was interesting food and drink everywhere. In Slovenia, I ate Brussels sprouts just because they were served with the main dish, and discovered they were wonderful. (Unfortunately, I have not had them prepared the same way since. And I didn’t know how to ask for the recipe in Slovenian. I speak a little Russian, enough to order cabbage or buy books, but I didn’t think that would go over so well.  But I digress.)

In Istria (a peninsula that’s part of Croatia), a few of us from the tour stopped at a local tavern to get a hot buttered rum to ward off the chilly rain that was plaguing us that day. Dan and I, feeling a mite peckish, ordered a fish plate. We thought it might be something like a cheese plate, a small assortment of different kinds of samples.

But no. We were presented with an enormous platter featuring every kind of seafood you can imagine in vast quantities, including a huge, whole fish. Again, this was before Food Network, so I had to try to disassemble the fish without completely shredding it or leaving any treacherous bones. (I remember that I did it rather successfully, though that may just have been the rum punch talking.) Our tour-mates had to dig in to help us make a sizeable dent in all the fish, shellfish, and other marine life (think octopus), so as not to seem ungrateful.

But our best food encounter was on that same trip. In Croatia, there is a city named Split. (I was once trounced by a crossword puzzle that had the clue “Split country.” I thought of Korea or Vietnam, but neither one fit.) Near the end of the tour, Dan and I stopped in at a small restaurant to have a little something-something – not a full meal, just a nibble or a nosh.

There on the menu we saw it – a prosaic, all-American banana split! How could we possibly resist? We had to order one just so we could say, “We split a banana split in Split before we split Split. But we didn’t do the splits. We might have split our pants.” Opportunities like that don’t come along just every day.

Rearranging the Furniture in My Head

I knew a woman once who, when she was at business conventions and besieged by requests, saturated with meetings, and overwhelmed by the exhibit hall, stated that she had to retreat to her hotel room “to rearrange the furniture in my head.” I thought that was a great way to put it. We all have furniture in our heads and sometimes it’s necessary to place it in areas where we won’t trip over it and bruise ourselves. Or there may be more furniture than we need and we must jettison some of it.

Now, however, rearranging the furniture in my head has become more literal. I’m basically in the position of having to furnish an entire house, and indeed to be involved in planning the shapes as well as the contents of the rooms, since our house was destroyed by a natural disaster.

This is challenging. We loved our house the way it was, with only a couple of changes that we could envision making. We have an architect working on it and he’s made some pretty fine suggestions. He has told us that we can add amenities such as skylights and bay windows, plus making what had been a deck into a screened porch or “catio.” We’re also willing to trade some storage space to have a larger downstairs bathroom. But even if we left the floor plan basically the way it was, there are still a lot of decisions to be made.

It’s the furniture that has me puzzled. All our life, our house has been decorated in what my parents liked to call “Early Married Junk.” (We’ve been married for more than 30 years and that’s still our decor.) Now, having to pick out things that actually go together is stressing me out.

Choosing color schemes is no picnic, for example. We barely had a color scheme for our wedding, starting with off-white so the guests wouldn’t snicker. This was in the days before weddings had themes or groom’s cakes or favors for the guests or designer cocktails. We had a cake decorated in our colors and called it a wedding day.

But now it seems that every room must have a color scheme and a “look.” Boho? Country? Modern? Classic? Retro? Anything but ’50s, no matter what my husband says.

Saying goodbye to our original kitchen decor will not be a hardship. The house was designed in the ’70s and the kitchen was done in orange. Countertops so orange you could lose a pumpkin if you placed it on one of the surfaces. Psychedelic patterned indoor-outdoor orange carpeting that caused hallucinations if you stared at too long. I don’t know what we’ll settle on, but that’s not it. Generally speaking, I think carpeting in the kitchen is a Bad Idea, psychedelic orange or not. Linoleum, tile, press-n-stick “wood” – nearly anything else.

Once I tried to decorate a bedroom. I was going for a travel theme with bright, yellow-gold walls and our assorted souvenirs as accents, with jungle print or brown, rust, and gold bedding. I managed to talk my husband into light oak for the bed, but couldn’t convince him to ditch his cherry chest-on-chest. It was an antique, but also a dark, hulking presence against one wall. We had compromised on each of us decorating one half of the room’s edges. My half had a rattan teacart and etagère. His had classical paintings of naked nymphs, plus brooding African masks that seemed to follow your every move. Admittedly, they did complement the travel theme, but they were still unnerving.

Now we will have a master bedroom, two baths, two studies, a great room, and a kitchen/dinette to deal with. By the time the house is built, I may just decorate every room with padded walls. Until we actually have rooms to put things in, I’ll keep browsing decorating websites and rearranging the furniture-to-be in my head.

Camping Then and Now

There we were, bedding down on sleeping bags in our tents, the cold, hard ground only a layer of canvas or plastic away. When we sprang out the next morning, our lithe teen forms dressed in green shorts and Vibram-soled boots, we hoisted our backpacks and hiked over hill and dale and rocky trails, singing optimistic songs and breathing deep of the fresh air. We ate granola as we walked.

Later that day, we built a fire and sat upon logs, tree stumps, or little water repellent squares while our dinner cooked slowly, smoke curled around our heads, and mosquitos had their meal before we had ours. Then it was more songs, jokes, stories, and talk till it was time to pour water on the fire, make sure the ashes were cool, and return to our sleeping bags, where, after hours more chat (not the electronic kind, either) we dozed off.

We were Girl Scouts and we thought that was the only way to camp. We’d see camping trailers and pop-up campers and elaborate RVs at the edges of the campgrounds nearest the parking lot and think, “That’s not camping! Those people aren’t having the real camping experience. No tents. No sleeping on the ground. Cooking over propane.” We sneered at them (amongst ourselves, being polite little things) and swore we would never indulge in such a travesty of the outdoor experience. It ought to involve at least a little hardship, after all, or where was the challenge?

Since then we have passed the 40- and 50- and even the 60-year marks and our challenges have largely changed. The last time I slept on the ground was well over a decade ago and an outfitter had to bring the tent, because I no longer owned one. Instead of the chirps of birds and rustle of small animals, the sound of our bones creaking and our groans as we tried to raise ourselves to standing positions awakened us. The outfitter cooked the breakfast and we were truly grateful.

Now even that sort of camping, with its modicum of luxury, is beyond me. For one thing, I need an electrical outlet nearby to run my CPAP machine. For another, my ability to climb from a horizontal position on the ground to an upright posture is, to say the least, difficult, as several falls in my home have proven. Some days I can get up and some days I need help. With my luck, I would be camping on one of the latter.

Now I would welcome a pop-up camper. It may have minimalist beds, but they are off the ground. Even a camping trailer would be nice. Those tents never really kept out the rain anyway and, given the choice, I would much rather sleep under a dry blanket than in a sodden sleeping bag.

(I’m still not completely sold on the huge RVs. I think of them more as a way to see the country than as a way to camp. Though they might be good for families with children and grown-ups even older than I.)

And now we have “glamping,” an ugly portmanteau word of “glamor” and “camping” that touts luxury and style. While glamping you can sleep in comfortable lodges or huge tents fitted out with full-sized beds. With throw pillows, even, in one of the photos I’ve seen. Wikipedia says it offers “the luxuries of hotel accommodation alongside ‘the escapism and adventure recreation of camping.'” “Resort-style services” may be available as you bask in Bali or indulge in a photo safari. In other words, camping for spoiled rich people. I know the rustic-looking cabins with all the comforts of the Waldorf promise a lot, but I can’t help feeling a little like I did as a naive and sturdy Girl Scout.

That’s not camping.

 

Where the Weirdos Go

Where do the weirdos go to have fun? “Nowhere,” you may think. “They stay in their parents’ basements, turn pale from lack of sunlight, and debate the ending of the most recent Avengers movie.”

Well, you’re in for a surprise. There’s a place where geeks go to socialize, share, and occasionally even get laid. It’s the science fiction convention (aka “con”). Although there will be people dressed as Klingons and furries (look it up), many of the trappings of an SF con resemble those of any other kind of convention. Panel discussions, book signings, an art exhibit, a dealer’s room, a hospitality suite, parties, music, perhaps a dance. There also may be children’s programming, science guests, and, in the case of the con I plan to go to in May, animals from the Columbus Zoo.

Because I look to the outside observer like a fairly typical middle-aged lady, I get asked a lot by other hotel guests, “Who exactly are these people?”

“They’re mostly harmless,” I reply. (Thereby quoting from one of the classic SF novels, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.) And that’s the truth. Even though they may wear authentic Scottish dirks, Viking swords, and lightsabers, they are indeed harmless. They are simply people who lead, as one song says, “Rich Fantasy Lives.” They are the geeks. Nerds. Outsiders. Every variety of misfit.

Including me and my husband. I’ve been going to cons ever since I was a stringer for Cincinnati magazine and was sent to cover one by my editor. There I wrote a 400-word piece and met people who would become my lifelong friends. (The editor had chosen me for the assignment because she remembered that I was a reader of science fiction when she knew me in high school. But I digress.)

The people who attend cons are not all Trekkies or get-a-lifes or people who think they’re from another planet. There are writers (like me) and scientists, but also musicians and career consultants and academics and lawyers and advertising people and zookeepers and all varieties of creative types from folklorists to woodworkers.

Why do they gather in these numbers (up to the thousands), in these hotels, in these tribes? Fellowship. Camaraderie. Stimulation. Understanding. Friendship. Shared interests. Fascinating discussions. Movies and novels and video games. Even love.

I’ll admit that I haven’t been to a con in years. I know that, unlike at a business convention, almost anything I do will be all right. I can hang with friends or sit in the lobby reading. I can join a large, raucous group for dinner or order a pizza in my room. I can attend parties where I know no one or concerts where I know everyone. I can be opinionated and argue or be quiet and learn. Generally, only overt violence and sexual harassment are disallowed.

And I can wear my NASA t-shirt, my Fahrenheit 451 t-shirt, or my Death Star/Ceci n’est pas une lune t-shirt (okay, I’m a language geek too). No biz casual for me. No booth duty while the salespeople power-lunch. The only booths will be in the art exhibit and the room selling shirts, books, CDs, and costuming supplies. (Cosplay is a big thing at this particular convention. Look it up.)

It’s true that after all the business conventions, I get a bit of anxiety around so many people. But the other attendees may too, and they will understand. After all, we are mostly misfits, from the over-intelligent to the socially awkward to the nearly completely unsocialized. But I’ll have a hotel room full of close friends (sharing rooms is a tradition) and a hotel full of potential friends.

So, as the song says, “Don’t be unkind to a wandering mind/Just say it again if we missed it./Some whispering poem/Was calling us home/To a place we know never existed.” Or exists for a weekend at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, anyway.

 

On the Road With Serial Killers

While traveling, I’ve encountered some serial killers. Well, two. Sort of. Near misses, anyway.

The first time was kind of meta. My car broke down and a nice woman stopped to give me a ride. “I’m going to take a chance that you’re not a serial killer,” I said as I got in. “Well, I’m going to take a chance that you’re not one either,” she replied. We both figured the odds were against that and she drove me to where I could call AAA.

The second time was much creepier. I was driving down the highway, alone, on a Sunday night. It wasn’t dark and stormy, which would have been too atmospheric, but it certainly was dark. All of a sudden, my car started sputtering. From all that I’ve read about serial killers in true crime books, I knew that if my car broke down along the roadside at night, I was a sitting duck.

I nursed my car along. I passed exits with plenty of gas stations, but they were all chain operations where I was more likely to find a burrito and a doughnut than a mechanic. They may have also sold fan belts, spark plugs, and washer fluid, too. But I really didn’t know what was wrong with my car other than making funny sounds – the kind you sound dumb trying to demonstrate – and slowing down.

I took an exit.  Lo and behold! A proper gas station appeared, one that was open and wasn’t the burrito-and-doughnut sort. Sometimes I have that kind of luck, like the time a phantom gas station appeared in Arizona when, through a miscalculation, my tank was below E.

A short time later, as I was making pseudo-engine noises to the attendant, a man walked in. He was short and round and wearing rainbow-striped suspenders. Also, he had a beard. Potential serial killer. They look just like regular people, you know. That’s how they lure you in.

After he gassed up, he listened to my attempts at explaining my predicament to the clerk (who was no help at all). “Sounds like you’ve got a broken fill-in-the-blank,” the stranger said. “There’s an auto store just about a mile from here. You could get one there.”

“My car won’t run,” I said sadly.

“I could give you a lift.” There it was, the classic serial killer move – find a woman stranded on the highway and offer her a lift. Of course, the clerk could have described the man with the suspenders, his car, and maybe even his license plate. But then again, maybe not.

“I don’t have any money,” I said. Actually, I had some, though not quite five dollars. And no credit card.

“I think I have an extra fill-in-the-blank at home in my garage,” the gentleman offered. “We could get that.”

“I think I’d be more comfortable waiting here,” I said. That was code for, “If you think I’m getting in your car with you and going to your house, you’re crazier than I think you are.”

“I’ll be right back,” he said and drove off, leaving me alone with the clerk. Who, after all, might have been a serial killer. Could you dump a body into one of those enormous tanks that hold all the gas for the station? I wondered.

Before I could really work up a scenario (or figure out what to do about it), the man with the suspenders returned, which I really hadn’t expected. He installed the fill-in-the-blank and I was on my way. He never even gave me his name, which made me wonder if he had even really existed. I made it home safely, vowing never to travel again alone, or at night, or with less than five dollars in my pocket. Though of course I have, many times since. Shows you how cocky you get when you survive an encounter with a serial killer.

 

Getaway: Creepy to Castle to Country

“How far away is Massachusetts?”

“About 12 hours, maybe more.” My husband has less than a keen grasp on geography. Also, he asks questions out of order. When he asks me about Massachusetts, I know there’s a question behind the question.

“How would you like to sleep in Lizzie Borden’s house?” Ah, the real question. Dan had read that the Borden residence was now a bed and breakfast and he was pretty sure I’d be interested. After all, he’s met me. When we went to London I insisted on taking the Jack the Ripper Walk, the one led by Donald Rumbelow, author of The Complete Jack the Ripper, so I could get him to autograph my copy.

I’m not saying that I would want to do the Assassination Vacation thing like Sarah Vowell, but true crime interests me and we had been talking about a long weekend getaway.

But there was a problem. Two, actually. Apart from the fact that Massachusetts was too far to drive for a three-day weekend, there was the ambience of the Borden b-n-b, as I learned online. Far from true crime, it was being billed as paranormal. Psychic readings. Ghost cams. All that ooga-booga shit I have no use for. I was glad to abandon the idea and search for less hokey, and closer, accommodations.

The next thing Dan suggested was a castle. I had told him about the wonderful castle tours in Ireland, and he thought he remembered that there were castles – or at least replica castle hotels – within our state. So back to the Internet I went.

There are indeed castles in Ohio. None authentic, as we’ve never had an Earl of Chillicothe or Baron of Akron, but several nonetheless. Some sounded very interesting, with little, attached taverns or pubs or assorted square and round towers. The problem here was that they were out of our price range. We could afford one night. Driving somewhere, spending one night, and driving back isn’t my idea of relaxation, unless we have an interesting relative within driving distance, which we mostly don’t.

(We’re keeping some of the non-hotel castles in mind as day trips. A tour and a meal sound like a fine one-day getaway.)

By chance, the next day I got an email from a travel discounting service (all right, it was TravelZoo), advertising a 60% off rate on a stay at a working farm in Kentucky. Not an old farm, but one built in the 90s, recent enough to have Jacuzzis in some rooms and Wifi throughout.

If that sounds a lot like glamping, well it is. But the place also offers opportunities to milk cows or goats; gather eggs for breakfast; learn canning, gardening, and other farm-type activities, plus take tours of a thoroughbred horse park or bourbon distilleries and vinyards.

Two discounted nights at the farm were only a few dollars more than one night in a castle, and only three hours or so away. And it seemed a pleasant combination of rest and recreation. I emailed, got a speedy answer to my question, and booked right away, in the middle of the night, from my tablet. Now we have a voucher and just have to pick a date, perhaps around our anniversary.

There’s no crime connection, and no pseudo-castle, but there is fresh air in different surroundings, plus activities that will take me back to my childhood stays at Uncle Sam’s farm. (Yes, I had an actual Uncle Sam. I also had an actual Aunt Jemima. Yes, I know it’s funny.)

In one day our travel plans had ricocheted from creepy to medieval to rustic. We’re flexible like that.

 

 

Spelunking Through My Life

I hear that nowadays Girl Scouts go in for computer programming and rooftop gardening. I’m not knocking that, but back in the day it was hiking, camping – and caving.

(Exploring caves is also known as “spelunking,” which is a wonderful word. It sounds like a quarter dropped into a toilet.)

You might think that spelunking is a young person’s game, but that’s simply not true. I didn’t stop caving when I got too old for Girl Scouts. There are plenty of caves that adults – even seniors – can enjoy.

Here’s a look at a few of my caving exploits through the ages.

Young and stupid. One of the caving trips my troop took was to Carter Caves, in Olive Hill, KY. The site featured a number of caves, including “wild” caves (those not improved for tours). X-Cave and Saltpetre Cave were fun, especially after we took the tours a few times and could chime in at appropriate points in the guide’s spiel.

But Bat Cave was my favorite. Just like it sounds, Bat Cave was a nesting site for the little mammals, though the tours were carefully scheduled to give the bats priority use of the location during their favorite times. It was one of those wild caves, so the tour included rough terrain, tight squeezes (invariably named “Fat Man’s Misery” in this and every other cave), and crawling on our bellies through guano.

Which is why I say we were young and stupid. Guano is bat shit, and inhaling the dust from it can lead to respiratory problems including histoplasmosis. And there was a lot of bat shit. (Today’s rooftop gardeners may be interested to know that guano is an excellent organic fertilizer. Just don’t inhale it.)

Grown-up and adventurous. During our many back-and-forth trips to Philadelphia, my husband and I kept seeing a sign for Laurel Caverns, which is south of Pittsburgh, and just off the Turnpike. After years of saying, “We’ve got to stop there sometime,” we finally did.

Laurel Caverns featured a developed sandstone cave and miles of wild limestone caves. At the time it was possible to go into the undeveloped caves without a guide, if you had the proper gear. (I understand this is no longer so.) So Dan and I donned hard hats with lamps, clasping our rudimentary maps, and squeezed through the small hole that led to subterranean wonders.

Limestone caves feature stalactites (hanging down), stalagmites (reaching up), and flowstone formations. This one also featured boulders. Huge boulders. Boulders the size of houses, in some cases. As we clambered over those, my foot slipped between two rocks and I heard a crack. “Uh-oh,” I said (or words to that effect) as I waited for the pain to hit. It never did. Rather than breaking my leg, I had merely dislodged a couple of stones that clanked together while rolling downslope.

And that was a Very Good Thing, since such injuries required hauling a person out in a basket through that little squeeze hole I mentioned. Also, you could stay down there a long time, since it wasn’t till the end of the day that the owners matched up the list of spelunkers with the cars in the parking lot and went looking for anyone missing.

Older and slower. One of my favorite caves ever was Kartchner Caverns, in Benson, AZ, not far from Tucson. Discovered in 1974, the cave was developed with an eye to preserving it, while still allowing access to young, old, and handicapped alike. After entering through an adit (being a cruciverbalist as well as a spelunker, I was thrilled), you follow level paths, ramps, and switchbacks into the depths, culminating in a gigantic feature that looked like (and was named after) a pipe organ.

There the guides, after giving proper warning, turned off all the lights so the cavers could experience total darkness. (Actually, most caves do this, but they warn you first. Although if darkness and claustrophobia bother you, spelunking is probably not for you.)

All in all, it was the best preserved and most accessible cave I’ve ever seen. While wild caves are amazing and awesome and self-guided tours are adventurous and exciting, there’s something to be said for caves that invite anyone to enjoy.

And when we came to the surface and reentered the visitor center, there waiting to take their turns in the netherworld were one group of bikers and one of – you guessed it – Girl Scouts.

When the Husband’s Away…

“Bye, honey!” My husband is leaving on a vacation. “When will you be back? I need to schedule the dancing boys!”

OK. Not really. I mean, I don’t really invite male strippers in when my husband is away. But I really do say that.

You see, we’re totally on board with the idea of separate vacations, and we feel comfortable making jokes about nonexistent indiscretions. Once Dan sent me flowers and signed the card “Raoul,” my imaginary lover/pool boy. (Didn’t that stir them up at the office!)

We take plenty of vacations together, when we can, but that doesn’t always work out. One of us can get time off, but the other can’t. He has to go do home repairs for his mother and I need to cat-sit for a honeymooning couple.

“You mean he’s going to let you go?” a coworker asked on learning that I was going to Florida for a week without my husband. I ignored the “let you go” part, which would have taken a long explanation that would probably have confused her anyway. I tackled the other assumption instead.Farewell at the station

“If I were going to cheat on him, I wouldn’t have to go to Florida to do it. I could do it much more conveniently right here in town.” At least I think that was the assumption she was making. Perhaps she simply thought that a woman alone in Florida should fear for her safety and that my husband would worry if he weren’t there to protect me. (Oh, well, there went my reputation again!)

While I do think that separate vacations are Good Things, it’s not for the usual reasons. Most separate vacationers rhapsodize about the freedom of being alone and the sweetness of coming back together afterwards.

No one ever mentions that a couple may have very different vacation styles. I’m not talking here about when one person wants to lounge on the beach sipping tropical drinks with little umbrellas to keep the drinks dry, while the other hankers for rugged adventure with primitive sanitary facilities and the thrill of potentially being eaten by bears.

What I’m talking about is the way two people can go with each other to the same place and still be on separate planets. Take me and my husband, for example. Before we leave, I like to do research (yes, I am just a wee bit compulsive). I like to know what the attractions in the area are, when they’re open, how much they cost, and the best way to get there. Dan likes to wing it.

Once we’re there, though (wherever “there” is), he likes to schedule each day. And sometimes over-schedule, a practice that a friend refers to as The Bataan Fun March. I like to plan what we do based on the weather, how tired we are, and which are our individual must-see trade-offs.

Then there are souvenirs. Dan likes to buy something at each place we visit, even if it’s something he’ll likely never use, like a cowboy hat. I prefer to purchase that one perfect item that reminds me of our whole trip. Although I will admit a weakness for shot glasses with the names of cities and scenic places on them. But I use those.

Packing is another issue. He underpacks, and I overpack. (Though not to the extent of stereotype woman-with four-suitcases-and-two-trunks.) I just like to have clothes for any type of weather and shoes for any type of terrain we may encounter. Dan packs as little as possible to leave room for the aforementioned souvenirs.

In short, we can easily make each other crazy. Stroll through the airport or run to the gate and then sit for hours? Visit museums or go on walking tours? Take a day off to relax in the hotel pool or squeeze in more sightseeing? A together-vacation is fraught with potential pitfalls.

So what do I recommend? A judicious blend of together and separate. After all, vacations are about variety, aren’t they? A different environment, different experiences, different destinations? We spend most of our lives together. A week apart can be a refreshing change!

 

 

An Arizona Ghost Town

My husband and I were vacationing in Arizona when we encountered a ghost town.

It wasn’t the ordinary sort of ghost town, neither the kind with re-created western storefronts and actors playing at gunfights and saloons that serve sarsaparilla nor the kind that are abandoned towns of the 1930s or 50s that sport  completely empty streets, dilapidated houses, decrepit main streets, and sand-filled parks and parking lots.desert road

This was something else again.

We were in Arizona for the silliest of reasons. We had decided to visit the small town of Benson, based entirely on the name of the theme song of the little-known sci-fi movie Dark Star. It’s a charming little country-and-western number on the topic of special relativity. Here’s the best recording of it I could find: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W2F0dHVZAm8

It turned out to be a swell vacation. Very relaxing. The nearest city of any size was Tucson, Benson was surrounded by scenic mountains, there were an excellent restaurant and a great diner (also a noted barbecue joint, but it was closed because the chef had cut himself), and not a great deal else.

But Benson was a good jumping-off point for assorted day trips. One of the best was to Kartchner Cavern (http://azstateparks.com/Parks/KACA/), which was the most accessible and best-preserved cave I’ve ever seen, but also a delight because the tour guide actually used the word “adit,” which is usually encountered only in crossword puzzles.

On this particular day we were visiting the copper-mining town of Bisbee. Noted for its historical significance and its artist-colony vibe, Bisbee was a delightful town to explore. There was a bicycle race going through town that day, which provided some very intriguing sights of the buff-guys-in-skintight-shorts variety. I also indulged my fondness for semiprecious stones. They are available all over the southeastern Arizona area, but Bisbee’s shops provided some of the most attractive examples. I bought an iolite bracelet at one. (A little bluer than amethyst, iolite is lovely set in silver http://www.minerals.net/gemstone/iolite_gemstone.aspx.)

At some point during our ramble around Bisbee, I had picked up a real estate paper, and read in it about a restaurant/bar/orchard for sale, complete with liquor, as the owners had abandoned it. It sounded unusual and interesting, and on the way out of town we passed what had to be the same property.

It inspired us. We started daydreaming about how we could buy the property with our friends Sandy and Hugh. Sandy and I could run the bar while Dan and Hugh tended the pecan orchard and baked pies. Or Dan and I could run the restaurant while Hugh and Sandy set up stables for boarding horses. Or we could all drink up the liquor and abandon the place as the previous owners had.

Our next destination that day was Chiricahua National Monument, a place of spectacular formations that looked like God had played Jenga with rocks. We were chatting and driving merrily along when I noticed the gas gauge. It was at zero. Not near zero. Not approaching zero. The needle was actually on the red line.

We looked at our map. Nothing. No thing. Not a thing between us and Chiricahua. Not even a symbol that indicated food, gas, and lodging.

Actually, there was something between us and Chiricahua. Miles and miles of nothing.

It’s pretty well known that when the needle hits the red line, there is still actually some small amount of gas left in the car. The thing is, you never know how much or how far it will take you. In our case, it looked like the rental car might take us just a little closer to Absolutely Nothing.

As couples will, Dan and I began to bicker. Who should have reminded whom to get gas on the way out of Bisbee? Would driving faster or slower conserve more fuel? Could we arrange to run out of gas on a downhill slope so the car would be easier to push? What were the odds of getting a cell phone signal? Why were we so stupid, and unlucky, and screwed?

Then, ahead in the not-too-distant distance, a smudge appeared on the horizon. As we crept nearer, the smudge resolved into a few lonely buildings. We both started humming the Twilight Zone theme.

It was a town. Not much of a town and not on the map, which still indicated that we were nowhere. But it was there, and it was a town with two buildings.

And one of them was a gas station. (The other was a post office, which I can’t imagine was very busy.) So we got gas and a couple of cold drinks and didn’t have to die of heatstroke walking forward to Chiricahua or back to Bisbee. We thanked the attendant (who was not Rod Serling) kindly and went on our way, letting the smudge of a town disappear in our rearview mirror.

I suppose I should have asked the clerk’s name, or the town’s name, but it never occurred to me to do so. We were simply awed and grateful and more than a little amazed.

And we decided that the moral of the story was this: It’s better to be smart, but if you can’t do that, it’s even better to be lucky.

 

 

 

Procrastination Isn’t All Bad

I’ve put off writing this post as long as I can.(1)

The truth is, I’ve been a procrastinator all my life. The number of library books I’ve returned past their due date adds up to quite a sum in fines. I always tell myself that this isn’t a character flaw, it’s just a way of supporting the library with my funds as well as with my votes.(2)

The one thing that I haven’t been able to procrastinate about is worrying. As soon as worry niggles its way into my mind, there it is, taking up residence, and threatening to stay for the duration.

However, the reason that I say procrastination can be good is that, if you wait long enough, whatever it is you’re putting off may just go away.

Once my husband and I were vacationing in Boca Raton. There was going to be a rocket launch at Cape Canaveral, on the other coast, on the day we were supposed to leave. Dan very much wanted to see the launch. I would have liked to as well, but I thought it would make our drive home to Ohio one of crazed madness, driving too far too fast, and not enjoying anything. We would arrive home stressed, exhausted, and angry.(3)

So we postponed having the fight. There were still a few days before the launch and there was a telephone number to call for updates. Every day Dan called and every day they reported whether it was still on schedule or on hold. Many of the days we called it was on hold. Eventually it got to the point where there was no way we could stay for the launch, make it over to the other coast of Florida, and still have enough time to get back to Ohio before we had to go to work.

The point is that at that time neither one of us could be angry about it. Dan missed seeing launch, but not because I was being a bitch about it. I got my long, leisurely drive back home without Dan being a resentful Mr. CrankyPants. In that case, procrastination may have saved our marriage.(4)

Here’s another example of procrastination as a marriage-saver. It’s in my nature put off large purchases by shopping around. Dan is more of the “see-what-you-want-and-buy-it” type of consumer. When we need a major appliance I procrastinate by comparing models, prices, ease of service, delivery charges, and so on. Then when I go out of town for any reason, Dan simply buys the appliance he likes best while I’m away.(5)

Useful as I find it, I am trying to break – or at least lessen – my habit of procrastination. That’s one reason I’m lying here in bed, beset by two kinds of antibiotics plus probiotics, allergy pills, antihistamine pills, and all the usual meds I take just to get through daily life. I have promised myself that I will post on my blogs every week on Sundays. To do that and do it well (or reasonably) I need to start writing by Wednesday at the latest.(6)

Fortunately my Samsung Galaxy Android tablet allows me to dictate. Then when I feel better I can go downstairs to the real computer and edit. Hemingway is said to have advised writing drunk and editing sober. I suppose writing while medicated and editing while recovering is at least close to the spirit.

Defeating procrastination is a question of whether you have power over it or it has power over you. With me, I guess it’s about six of one and half dozen of the other, or a little more on the procrastinating side. But I don’t have time to worry about that now. I’ll get to it later.

 

(1) See what I did there?

(2) It’s less easy to explain away how I managed to procrastinate on filing my taxes. I’m pretty sure that my next investment will have to be a tax attorney. When I get around to looking one up online.

(3) At least I would have. Dan would have skipped the angry part, since he would have gotten his way.

(4) I won’t say I’m recommending procrastination for everyone, all the time. I’m just noting that it has its uses.

(5) That’s also how he ended up with a pet hedgehog, which I suppose is better than a major appliance, though definitely not as useful.

(6) In high school and college I could put off writing like a champ. It was seldom that I ever wrote a paper more than a day before it was due. And I got away with it. Now I can’t – or at least don’t – do that anymore. Either I’ve gotten worse at procrastinating, worse at lying to myself, or better at realizing that my work needs more work. Whatever the reason, I definitely procrastinate less, when it comes to writing.