I won’t be home for Christmas…

For 42 uninterrupted years, I woke up on Christmas morning on the western fringes of Allegany County. The arrival of the Great Plague in 2020 changed that. As it stands now, I’ll have only been home for Christmas one out of the last three years.

It’s a combination of factors this year. There’s been non-Covid respiratory sickness for the last two weeks at the old homeplace. Maybe it’s reached the stage of not being contagious, but then maybe it hasn’t. I came back from Christmas last year carrying a bug that unloaded on me on about December 28th… and see no good reason to ask for a repeat performance. Better, I think, to just push the visit out into January or February once everyone involved is healthy.

The second precipitating factor is the appalling weather. At 9:00 this morning, the temperature here was 46 degrees. By 10:00 it had started plummeting towards it’s anticipated low of 9 degrees. It’s not forecast to creep back above freezing for the next four days. Being away from the house for days on end while nature threw some of her worst possible conditions at us, felt like tempting fate unnecessarily. Add in problematic travel conditions enroute and staying put feels like even more of a no brainer.

Finally, and perhaps the most compelling factor, is that a certain feline member of the household came back from the vet earlier this week being diagnosed with a double ear infection. We’re treating it with drops twice a day. He’s just barely tolerating my administration of the drops. I know his normal sitter would have given it the old college try, be she only comes in once a day and there’s no guarantee he’d have been cooperative. Sitting tight ensures he’s getting the full course of meds as scheduled. Even surrounded by the comforts of my childhood home, I’d have inevitably spent the entire visit fretting that I should be doing something more for him.

It’s a disappointment, of course, but in the grand scheme of things it’s not catastrophic. I’ve got a ham to bake and made a trip out yesterday to pick up a few missing ingredients to whip up the appropriate side dishes for a proper Christmas dinner. It’s decidedly “less than” the normal traditions of Christmas, but it still won’t suck. 

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. I’ve seen recently about 37 iterations of the phrase “If you see someone shoplifting, no you didn’t” floating around social media. I’m forced to wonder, what the actual fuck is wrong with people? But, they say, it’s just stealing from some big faceless corporation. Maybe that’s so, maybe it’s not, but I know that once you make an excuse for some kind of bad behavior, it gets a whole lot easier to do it – and it doesn’t feel like a very long slide between “it’s just Walmart” to “It’s just someone with a big house” or “It’s just someone with a nice car” or “it’s some random person who has something I want.” Your mama raised you better. Or at least she should have. Cloak it in whatever sophistry makes you feel better about yourselves, I guess, but don’t expect me to think a common thief is anything other than what they are.

2. Still waiting. Here we are 8 weeks past the “end of max telework” and the union, such as it is, still hasn’t come through on delivering the new and improved telework agreement. So, we’re still grinding along with only two days a week like pre-COVID barbarians… as if the last 30 months didn’t prove that working from home works. All this while hearing stories of other organizations tucked in next door that are offering their people four or five day a week work from home options. Gotta love working for the sick man of the enterprise. There’s probably plenty of blame to go around, but since the updated policy for supervisors was published eight weeks ago, I’m going to continue to go ahead and put every bit of blame on Local 1904 for not getting this shit done.

3. For a hot minute there in early September, I really considered hopping a flight to London to join the queue. My long since expired passport left that an unfulfillable pipe dream. I’ve since retrieved my passport from its hidey hole and at least looked at the process for getting a fresh new one issued. I like the idea of getting back to traveling on something like a regular basis – mostly to exotic places with proper castles and good beer. The catch, of course, is even with all the other ducks in a line, I’m not in any way sure I would be able to find someone I 100% trust to take care of my neurotic dog while I was away. The cat and tortoise have proven resilient under someone else’s watchful eye for a few days at a time… but since he came home with me, I haven’t so much as left him in a different room overnight. The separation anxiety is probably as much mine as his. I’m sure I’ll spend the money and get my fancy new document, but whether I’ll ever convince myself to use it is another issue altogether.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Alex Jones. Since he broke into popular consciousness, Alex Jones has been a bloviating douche canoe. I can only assume he was one long before anyone ever heard of him. He’s a living example of being able to fool some of the people all of the time. Now, not all of that is exactly his fault. You’d have to be particularly weak minded to buy into the absolute bullshit he peddles on a regular basis. Watching this cowardly twatwaffle get absolutely bitchslapped around the courtroom, trapped like a rat, has been an absolute treat. It couldn’t happen to a nicer guy. 

2. Republican spin. Whether they admit it or not, Republicans were shocked by Kansans voting by a large margin to retain abortion rights as part of their state constitution. Kansas is supposed to be a rock-ribbed, ruby red bastion of conservatism. Their two key takeaways should be: 1) Not all conservatives are cheerfully going along with the religio-fascist wing of the party and 2) The majority of voters in general oppose them to the point that brings them out in unexpectedly large numbers. I’m under no illusions that Republicans won’t win some of these votes in other places, but Kansas was absolutely a warning shot put across their bow… no matter how hard they try to spin it as something else.

3. Brittney Griner. The media is tangentially focused on the ongoing arrest, trial, and sentencing of Brittney Griner. While I share their general feeling that I’d want to be just about anywhere other than a Russian jail, it’s one of those issues I can’t quite bring myself to rend my garments over. As a traveler, I’ve always considered it my responsibility to obey the laws of the country I happened to be in at the time. At sixteen, I found myself somehow in the middle of a protest march working its way through the streets of Mexico City. Somewhere there’s a picture of me looking entirely perplexed about what was going on around me. I have no idea if it’s illegal in Mexico or not, but even as a child, I had a decent understanding that I, as an American citizen, had no business in the middle of a Mexican protest. We beat a hasty retreat back to the hotel. If I can sort that much out at 16, expecting a 30-year-old woman to not carry substances known to be illegal in the country where she’ll be traveling doesn’t feel like it should be a big ask. If it does happen to be too much to trouble yourself with, well, I suppose you have to accept that you’ve rolled the dice and may have to accept the consequences. 

He’s not a road dog…

During their formative years, Maggie and Winston got bundled off to various kennels and pet sitters a fair number of times due to my travel schedule for work. They knew exactly what my suitcase meant and weren’t fans. It’s appearance on the bed triggered immediate low level stress responses and minor spazzing out. 

In preparing for my brief Christmas trip to western Maryland, there has been no such response from Jorah. I don’t guess there’s any reason there would be. I haven’t traveled for work in a decade. He’s a product of the plague era where I’ve barely left the house let alone gone away overnight. 

Mags and Win loved being in the truck. Travel is something that Jorah just endures. He’s even wary and neurotic once we’re settled in at the destination. He spent most of the trip laying behind my legs or on my feet and looking generally put out. I don’t think we’re at any risk of him thinking getting there is half the fun. Especially when he seems to think being there isn’t much fun either.

I’m sure it’s something he’d get better at with time and practice, but since that would mean I need to be on the road too, it’s more likely that he’ll always just enjoy being home more than anywhere else. It’s surely an interspecies case of the apple not falling far from the tree.

On trumping festivity…

Last year was the first time in 42 years that I wasn’t in western Maryland for Christmas. It was different and decidedly subdued, but I didn’t particularly hate it. Now, here we are in December again and I’m starting to put together the plan for this year… even though it feels like we just did Christmas about seven weeks ago. 

Barring any significant Great Plague related issues, I’m more comfortable with the idea of making the trip this year… even if I’m not thrilled with the idea of driving into an area where every other Facebook post seems to mention friends, friends of friends, or family members who are militantly anti-vax or who are being throttled by the bug. 

Assuming I do go home for Christmas this year, it’s going to be another different experience. Excursions to the local watering holes, the casino, or restaurants are probably right out. I’ve avoided those things for the last eighteen months and making a Christmas exception probably doesn’t exactly pass the common sense test in the current environment. That alone opens up expanses of time I’m not use to having during these flying trips. Historically they’re a mad dash to see everyone I’ve promised to drop in on while I’m in the area. I don’t expect to make many of those promises this time around.

In all reality, what Christmas could mean this year is a change in where I’ll be tucked in with a dog and a few good books… and the need to potentially recruit a cat and tortoise sitter for a few days. It doesn’t feel particularly festive, but for the time being prudence continues to trump festivity.

Out of place…

I drive around from time to time looking for new places where the next interesting book to add to the collection could be hiding. The invariable part of every new town I pass through is that you can tell a lot about where you are by the kind of businesses occupying prominent or high traffic areas. 

As a general rule, once I hit the part of town where pawn shops, storefront check cashing, and empty buildings predominate, I’ve probably gone too far. The likelihood of finding what I’m looking for seems to diminish with every payday loan processor I pass. Often enough, these are parts of town when I have no business being or otherwise stick out like a sore thumb. If there’s treasure hidden somewhere there, I’ll leave it to someone else. 

Last week I had something of the opposite experience. Returning home from a successful book buying expedition, I found myself driving through a picturesque bit of Delaware – long lawns, gated drives, and the early 20th century impression of old money. Soon enough the residential gave way to the commercial – cheese mongers, wineshops, and a several block stretch of insurance agencies, understated banks, and “wealth management firms.” 

Sure, I felt altogether more comfortable there than I do driving down a block of abandoned and burned-out row houses, but it was still very much a case of being a stranger in a strange land. Less likely to get mugged, maybe, but far more likely to be offered a “can’t lose” investment opportunity, so perhaps they’re not all that different, really.

I don’t suppose there’s anything particularly insightful here… just a musing on the oddities of finding yourself out of place.

Why I plan ahead…

Back in March, people we shocked when a global pandemic hit and grocery store shelves were stripped bare of bread, milk, eggs, meat, toilet paper, canned goods, and a host of other products we deem essential. 

I was watching reports of this new virus in January – and made my last “stocking up” trip to market sometime in the last half of February. I’m not claiming any particularly deep insight, but a lifetime of pondering what ifs and worst cases and a bit of professional training in emergency management gave me a bit of a head start on seeing what was coming along and the short term results we were likely to see.

This week the virus is seeing a resurgence in Europe, while we here in America have never fully been able to get our arms around the problem. It’s obvious from seeing how people are acting that we’ve already collectively grown tired of even the minimal restrictions we managed to put in place. Smart people are telling us that the results of this behavior will be, in a word, bad. We here in America, of course, have a long and storied history of not believing what smart people tell us.

Why am I bothering to mention any of this?

I think there’s a significantly larger than zero percent chance that prevailing conditions could adversely impact long-standing and traditional holiday travel plans over the next two months. With that in mind, I’ve started laying in the essentials to make myself a proper Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner, should staying put at Fortress Jeff be a more rational option than traveling out into the plague lands.

I hope it’s not necessary, but just like in February, I’d rather have everything I might need on hand and discover I didn’t need it after all. I’d don’t want to have to fight it out for the last can of sweet potatoes or friend onions when the masses realize they won’t be travelling over the river and through the woods because granny caught the damned ‘rona and is in isolation.

Panic buying for “safer at home” was unpleasant. Panic buying for Thanksgiving would be its very own mini apocalypse.

Carnival…

Carnival, the cruise line that I vaguely remember from life in the 80s and 90s as advertising vacations aboard the “fun ship,” is planning to start cruising again on August 1st. I’m sure that some courageous souls will be tempted aboard these plague ships buy unbelievably discounted prices, but I’m not sure you could tempt me to on board with an offer of giving me the actual ship at the end of the cruise.

With at least one of the other large cruise lines already flirting with bankruptcy, it’s not surprising that Carnival is chomping at the bit to get back to business. I’ll be curious to see how many people take them up on the opportunity, though. Are there enough people still holding onto their vacation money in the face of 20% unemployment who also have a wildly under-developed sense of self-preservation to make the effort profitable? Watching the increasing reports of asshattery from around the country, at first blush, the answer is a definite maybe.

I don’t suppose you’ll ever go too far wrong trading on the stupidity of the average person – even, or maybe especially, when the penalties for stupid range from debilitating viral illness on up through death. Go ahead and enjoy the buffet and that sweet, sweet balcony room though.

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.