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.

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.