Postcards from the past…

Two weeks ago I passed a few days in the house where I did most of my growing up. For all my travels, I’ve always managed to find my way home at least at Christmas time.

I get up early. That doesn’t change just because I happened to have a few days off. One of the perks of waking up before the sun is that you get to see it rise over the Appalachians. In a lot of ways, those clear mornings were a throwback.

On a dead calm Boxing Day morning, the wood smoke hung thick in the George’s Creek valley. A hundred years ago it would have been coal, but for a distant observer it didn’t make enough difference to notice.

For a couple of minutes, it was like watching a living picture postcard from another age – a sight that realistically hasn’t changed much from the 19th and 20th centuries into the 21st. It was one of the first times I think I really appreciated just how slow time can move out there in the hills.

It’s the rare moments like this one that fill me with the idea that maybe someday I’ll go back to stay… but before long other realities of time and space crowd in and the moment is gone. There are real reasons I’ll never really go home again, not to stay… but those reasons will never, ever be because I’ve gotten tired of the view from down the crick.

I'm making a list and checking it twice…

I probably put more effort than is strictly necessary into traveling. Even a million years ago when I was traveling for work on a regular basis, I was the guy who showed up at the airport with a giant suitcase that pushed the 50 pound weight limit for a four day trip. It got exponentially worse when I lived in the center part of the country and most of the trips suddenly because reachable if I were willing to put in a long day’s drive. Then I’d fill the bed of the truck with all manner of stuff that I might possibly need, or more often just things that would make the hotel room feel more like home. If I couldn’t actually be at home, that was the next best alternative.

Seriously, I’d show up at five star hotels, slide into their valet line, and proceed with an unpacking experience that looked like a cross between the arrival of a gypsy caravan and the journeys of Lawrence of Arabia. What can I tell you, I’m believe in my own comfort… and for me, that generally means having the right things on hand whenever I might want or need them.

Here we are many years since those trips of old… but the impulse to take the whole house with me is as strong as ever. That’s why I’ve been working on my Christmas List for the better part of a week now. It’s not a list of presents, of course, but rather my planned packing list.

The list these days is a little different. It consists mostly of dog beds, dog food, dog toys, dog medication, crates, bowels, leashes, harnesses, and then the usual allotment of books, electronics, charging cables, and a few changes of clothes. In other words, mostly things that I could personally live without, but would really prefer not to if it’s avoidable.

This year I’ve gone so far as to have some of the requirements shipped ahead. Yes, thanks to Amazon I have pre-positioned certain dog related items at our holiday destination so we can just fall in on it when we arrive. Then all I’ll have to decide is whether to abandon it in place or repackage it for backhaul. It turns out you can take the boy out of logistics, but you can’t really shake the logistics out of the boy.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to start thinking about the Tetris-style load planning I’ll need to sort out to make sure everything is safely stowed in the truck cab or at least protected from the weather under the bed cover.

Obviously I have no idea how normal people travel.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Snapchat reality. People are apparently having plastic surgery to make themselves look more like their favorite Snapchat filter. I’m perfectly willing to accept that there are good and valid reasons to have cosmetic surgery… but isn’t the whole point of Snapchat that it lets you look different without someone jabbing pointy objects into your face? Lord knows I’ve got an ego big as all outdoors sometimes, but thank sweet merciful Zeus it’s in absolutely no way dependent on the way I look and doing batshit crazy things to keep up an illusion that I do.

2. Getting handsey. You probably wouldn’t expect this, but I tend to go out of my way to be polite to people. Please, thank you, sir, ma’am, excuse me, are all words that come frequently from my face hole. Being a natural misanthrope isn’t a reason to behave like you’ve never learned any manners. I’ll gladly return courtesy with courtesy. I’ve always followed John Wayne’s basic rules for civilized behavior, of which the Duke said, “I won’t be wronged. I won’t be insulted. I won’t be laid a hand on. I don’t do these things to other people, and I require the same from them.” If, however, someone feels like they need to get handsey with me, I’ll happily drop all pretense of civility.

3. Dogs. No, not really dogs in general. It’s well established fact that I value and love dogs over all other living creatures. The one and only time I find dogs at all annoying is when you’re trying to get away for periods longer than their bladders are able to tolerate. With dogs (or at least the way I insist their care and feeding take place), getting away for anything more than a day trip involves herculean logistical feats which usually reach the level of requiring unjustifiable levels of effort. Yes, I know there are dog sitters and boarding facilities of which normal people might avail themselves. Frankly I can’t think of any more than half a dozen people on the planet who I’d willingly allow full, free, and unfettered access to my home. The number of people I’d trust with the care of the dogs is significantly lower than that. Yes, of course I realize this problem is self-inflicted based on my utter lack of faith in humanity, but that doesn’t make it any less annoying… and it doesn’t mean I’m wrong.

On United and the Doctor…

Once upon a time I use to travel a lot for work. Useless hours in airports and tens of thousands of miles in the air wasn’t uncommon hopping between Memphis and DC, Chicago, Fort Worth, and Baltimore. This was almost a decade ago, but I can tell you from that experience, overbooking a flight isn’t exactly something that airlines just started doing this week. If you’re going to fly, overbooking is just one of the more obnoxious facts of life.

Finding out at the last minute that you aren’t getting where you’re supposed to be when you’re supposed to be there sucks. It happened to me on more than one occasion even when I was flying on full-fare tickets. I pocketed anywhere from $500-1000 for my trouble, stayed in the airport hotel, and got on the first flight out the next morning. Inconvenient, yes, but not life-alteringly terrible.

The thing I didn’t do in those circumstances was dig in my heels, make excuses for why I was a snowflake more important than any of the others and couldn’t be bumped, and then refused to give way. A lot has been made by the media about this guy being a doctor rushing home to get back to his practice. Fellow passengers were “outraged,” but I didn’t see any of them rushing to give up their seat so the good doctor could continue on his mission of mercy so their opinions, while interesting, are not relevant.

Look, I agree that United made a whole series of bad decisions, but their contract of carriage (which everyone agrees to when they purchase a ticket) pretty clearly spells out what happens when a flight is oversold and you’re bumped. Sitting in your seat and pretending that those rules don’t apply to you strikes me as the trigger that made the whole series of unpleasant events possible.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. You’re a racist. Can someone explain to me, perhaps using small and easy to understand words, why I’m a racist because I believe it’s a responsibility of the federal government to have functioning boarders for my country. My travels have carried me to England, France, Germany, Italy, and Mexico and I entered those countries using their established processes and in accordance with their laws. It doesn’t feel like much of a stretch to expect the same of people who want to come to the United States.

2. Oh my God the traffic! In the absence of anything even remotely newsworthy to cover, news outlets across America have spent a fair amount of time over the last 36 hours commenting on the high volume of Thanksgiving holiday traffic on the roads. The fact that large numbers of Americans take to the roads as part of their holiday tradition probably hasn’t been news since sometime immediately after World War II. Hyping it as “the worst traffic we’ve seen since… last Thanksgiving,” is just lame and not worth the time it took to script the story. Maybe we could use the free air time and column inches to report on something going on somewhere else in the world. I mean you do know that other places aren’t stuffing their faces with turkey and pie today, right?

3. Selective memory. My liberal friends are howling because of the conservatives President-elect Trump is appointing to fill his Cabinet and White House staff positions. In a grand fit of selective memory, they seem to have forgotten the howl that went up when President Obama selected his cabinet and counselors and surrounded himself with leading lights from the left. Sorry folks, that’s what happens when the party running the Executive Branch changes. It means the heroes of the opposition party have to go away for at least four years. Expecting a liberal president to appoint a deep bench of conservative advisors is stupid… and so is expecting a conservative president to surround himself with liberal lions.

Fundraiser…

I was reading an article today. The subject of the article isn’t particularly important unless you have a particular interest in Antarctic tourism. It was well written, articulate, and humorous. This blogger was ticked off all the appropriate boxes for what make a post enjoyable reading.

As the author regales us with tails of expedition ships and Russian sailors, and researchers who seem ever so slightly “off,” there was a thought lurking in the back of my mind. I wondered who the hell has the time or money to take off on 38-day cruise to the bottom of the world just to have something to write about. The blog itself was a fairly run of the mill affair without many bells or whistles – the kind of think you build when you’re more interested in writing than working in web design.

The answer to most of my questions came when at the end of the post, when the author thanked all of his supporters for donating to his Kickstarter campaign. Kickstarter. Sonofabitch. This guy was crowdsourcing his writing and travel habits by taking online donations. I didn’t know that was even a thing people did, but it is… and it’s apparently far more lucrative that selling short stories $.99 a copy on Amazon.

With trepidation in my heart I sought out the Kickstarter campaign for the blogger in question. I wish I would have let it go, because I can’t unsee what I saw. I’m never going to be able to forget that 900+ people donated a total of almost $38,000 to this heroic blogger to go out and play advanced tourist. I’m amazed and jealous and sunned all at the same time.

It’s given me more than a moment’s pause as I wonder how I can coax 900 people out of $42 a piece – or more importantly can I coax 3000 to donate that much. Is it possible that someone is out there now using Kickstarter as their primary source of income? If there is, can that person please give me a bit of “how to” coaching?

There’s a quiet little corner of beach on St. Thomas I think would make a great spot for writing. Send me there and I’ll tell you all about it.

That would be great…

Christmas vacation is about to get truly under way and as much as I’d like to say I’m going to spend the evening warming my toes by a roaring fire, the reality is something more like packing out an expedition from Everest base camp. Between now and the time my head hits the pillow this evening there are hundreds of pounds of equipment and material to be toted, lifted, and strategically placed in the truck to ensure proper load placement and balancing. All of these preparations must be carried out in such a way as to avoid raising the suspicions of either of my canine traveling partners – as that would lead to passing a very uncomfortable night with a dog firmly attached to each hip from fear of being left behind.

This part of the annual rites of winter is not particularly restful or relaxing. By Friday, though, the initial mayhem and chaos should have worn itself down into something a little more manageable. If not, I’m fairly sure there’s a flask or two in one of these bags that will help smooth the way.

As much as I always look forward to the trips back into the beating heart of the little piece of geography that made me, getting there from here (regardless of where in the world “here” technically is at any given moment) always boarders on exhausting. Fortunately a good night or two’s sleep will shake that off.

For all the others out there preparing to do battle with the interstate highway system, good luck and godspeed to your destination of choice… And if slower traffic could go ahead and merge to the right that would be great. Mmmmmkay? Thaaaaaanks.