Tag Archives: Travel

Pack Attack

Travel often aggravates the phobias we accumulate along life’s journeys.

Football commentator John Madden and many others fear flying, which is known as aerophobia. Others avoid travel in automobiles (ochophobia) or trains (siderodromophobia). Some even fear long words (hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia).

However, I’ve never encountered a term for my own neurosis, the “pack attack.”

My husband does not understand why the sight of a suitcase gives me the shakes.

What could you expect of a man who not only survives, but thrives on taking brown pants, two brown shirts and brown shoes? For fashion excitement, he adds a beige cardigan.

I like brown, too. But which brown will suit my mood tomorrow? Sepia, sienna or russet sweater? Raw or burnt umber toothbrush? So, I bring all my browns.

No wonder my dearly beloved struggles to understand. The man’s wardrobe controls the weather. If he forgets an umbrella, The Weather Channel calls a halt to all thunderstorms within 500 miles of our destination.

My packing paranoia asks, “What if?” I can’t leave city limits unless my suitcase contents cover every climate emergency ranging from a Tallahassee Ice Age to an Indianapolis volcanic eruption.

When we visit grandchildren, my entire wardrobe must be available. As long as Grandpa packs a separate bag, his clothes rarely suffer from baby body fluids. Let him share a suitcase with me, though, and a pee-a-thon — and worse — ensues. Although his preference for brown covers a multitude of sins ….

I marvel how his clothes mysteriously collapse into packets that could fit into a billfold. Once, when I foisted snow boots and my lumpy body armor bathing suit onto his bag, they promptly folded themselves into hankies.

Inspections present the ultimate torture for travelers who suffer pack attacks. Not only do strangers unwrap our Christmas gifts and wave our oversized undies like flags, they risk the entire terminal’s safety. One flip of a suitcase latch, one zzzzzip! — and my bag explodes. Shoes fly like missiles, and hundreds in line suddenly wear my wardrobe. On the positive side, they can expect lots of fashion variety.

When inspected, I miss my plane. My husband, who dashes for the gate before anyone knows we’re together, always makes it.

Airline carriers should offer therapy — and marriage counseling — for travelers in airports. They’d never go bankrupt.

Sessions for luggage also might be in order. My suitcase flips and flops like an angry two-year-old as I drag it through the terminal. It attempts to steal other bags’ identity. It tries to get lost when I travel.

I should send it to luggage obedience school.

If that doesn’t work, I’ll send it packing.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: Do you suffer from pack attacks? Does your spouse?

Look Out, I’m Pulling a Camper!

Pulling a camper is like being followed by a shadow that’s gained 2,000 pounds.

Sure, I’ve spelled my husband en route to nearby campgrounds. When straight roads send him to Lullaby Land, I save our lives by driving short stretches on state highways.

But brave roaring, dragon-like semis on interstates? Motorcycles whipping in and out of lanes at Star Wars speeds? Hans Solo, I’m not.

Especially as the rearview mirror is rendered useless.

My husband installed extended mirrors. However, they warn that reflected objects are closer than they appear.

That’s nice. Even humble, and I admire humility. But sorry, nice mirrors, when changing lanes, I want accuracy. And if up-close-and-personal encounters with construction barrels throw you off, I really don’t need views up my nostrils.

Especially when parking. We often need to stop for gas, food, and/or restrooms. Those paltry reasons pale, however, as we focus on more profound questions: Will we find a place to park the camper? Afterward, can we get out?

Once, as I contorted truck and camper in my 100th effort to leave a convenience store, Hubby lost all hope. “Will we spend the rest of our lives behind Kwickie Mart?”

Not exactly the retirement we’d envisioned.

I tried to console him: “Living on Little Debbie® cakes and beef jerky wouldn’t be so bad.”

My attempts scared traffic to a dead stop. A hundred yards away.

Thus, we finally left Kwickie Mart.

Hauling a camper never bores us. Once, while I was driving down South, purple-cloud giants charged us. They spit lightning and smothered us with avalanches of rain that drowned car taillights ahead. If I had risked pulling over, my flashers would have disappeared, blown out like candles.

Did I slow down? Not much. Storm or no storm, drivers who never drive less than 85 mph — on roads, shoulders and in parking lots — can be found everywhere. Even in easygoing Mississippi.

My prayer life shot up several notches.

Hubby’s, already flourishing, set new records.

Jesus took the wheel.

Afterward, when He had guided us to sunshine, Hubby tried to talk Jesus into taking all my shifts.

He smiled and said, no, we needed to grow in faith. Together.

Though Hubby still had theological doubts about Kwickie Mart experiences, and I struggled with mirror-nostril crises, we indeed have learned to depend on Jesus and each other. With His help, we and our 2,000-pound shadow return home, safe and sound.

We will hit the interstate again soon.

It’s only fair I give other drivers advance warning: Look out, I’ll be pulling a camper!

Prepare to grow in faith.

 

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: Have you ever pulled a camper? Driven an RV?

Touring Away from Other Tourists

If you’re like my friends and me, you’re still mulling your summer trips. Whether traveling by plane, train or hang glider, or staying in tent, hotel or castle, we all agree on one issue: We try to avoid places where other tourists go.

We require hotels much quieter — and cleaner — than our homes. Campers hope no one will locate within a mile of their Winnebagos. Both kinds of vacationers pray their rowdy, late-night parties will not be disturbed by some other rowdy, late-night party.

Patrons at both rough-it and refined ends of the getaway spectrum seek restaurants that attract no screamy children but their own.

We want to fill cyberspace — especially the pages of envious relatives — with amazing photos of eye-popping attractions. Attractions that should never draw other visitors, yet must include:

  • Infinite-sized, free parking lots.
  • Plentiful, pristine restrooms with no lines.
  • Classy, dirt-cheap souvenirs.
  • Educational adventures even grandmas and insurance companies consider safe.

Children, however, have long considered “education” and “vacation” a contradiction in terms. They love tourist traps.

Hubby and his brother, who as children stayed at their grandparents’ Wisconsin lake cottage, could have fed their morning cereal to deer peeking in the windows. Still, no vacation was complete without visiting nearby Diddly’s Delightful Deer Farm.

Today’s media-soaked children still reverence such attractions. Admission fees are in direct proportion to their pointlessness, reflected in souvenirs, e.g., oozy green livers from Mutant Body Parts Wax Museum and litter-shaped candy from Pretty Kitty’s Cat Condo.

Even teens welcome such enticements — if they can ditch parents.

Surprisingly, our college-aged daughter once asked me to journey with her in Honduras, where she’d spent the semester.

My airplane seatmate, a native who had moved to Texas, advised me to remove my necklace before we landed: “Pickpockets jerk them off.” She also counseled me to avoid taxis if I didn’t know the driver personally.

Long and scary story short, my daughter and I did rendezvous, enjoying a tropical paradise together. We also shared a bus ride along a favorite hijacker route to another seaside town. A town where bank security guards carried automatic rifles and strips of ammunition crisscrossing their chests. There, we unknowingly risked our lives watching a tribal dance at night.

At our mountainside 1950s-style hotel, a white cat with malignant eyes kept vigil on the front desk. Sen֮or Blanco listened to our complaints about no locks on our door. The often-AWOL owner didn’t.

But we never had to stand in line.

My daring daughter is currently planning a South American visit. Her husband will go adventuring with her to places tourists never visit.

As for me? Diddly’s Delightful Deer Farm, here I come.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What’s your favorite away-from-the-tourists vacation spot?

Where a Writer Goes

Some compare a writer’s life to a monk’s: starved, withdrawn from the speaking/smiling world and — like author Annie Dillard — incarcerated in a closet-like room decorated only with a picture she drew of a cow pasture.

I’ve experienced hermit weeks, although starvation doesn’t enter into the equation. Because I can’t draw cows or anything else, I allow myself a window.

I’ve also holed up in libraries, more exciting than most imagine. Take the Notre Dame library, where I did research for a biography of St. Augustine. Entering the skyscraper bearing its gigantic “Christ the Teacher” mural (known to football fans as “Touchdown Jesus”), I dared not speak to anyone, as even janitors appeared to be Fulbright Scholars.

I fought with a computer catalogue, then hunted for an elevator, which I finally rode to the philosophy and religion department on the 14th floor. Encountering a locked door, I rapped on it.

Silence.

I banged until my fists hurt.

Ditto. I’d spent forty-five minutes for nothing?

A brave aide on the elevator ride down asked if he could help.

“The philosophy and religion department is locked,” I griped.

“Which floor?”

“Fourteenth.”

“The philosophy and religion department is on the 13th floor. Father Hesburgh lives on the 14th.”

Taking a break from libraries, I traveled to story settings. Non-writers assume a publisher arranges free, first-class flights to exotic spots with four-star hotels. Instead, halfway to Cave-In-Rock, Illinois, I stayed at my daughter’s. Having been hugged, mugged and slimed by three sweet grandkids, a dog and a cat, I slept on a sofa. Eat your heart out, Karen Kingsbury.

Afterward, I drove to the enormous cave on the Ohio River where, during the early 1800s, enterprising pirates ran a tavern. They lured flatboat pioneers with “Last chance for a hot meal and mug o’ grog before the Mississip, matey!”

“Guests,” however, ended up at the bottom of the Ohio.

Climbing alone around the cave’s mottled walls, I listened to dead voices while the I-don’t-know-nothin’ river flowed past.

Maybe the Notre Dame library wasn’t scary, after all.

Rachael Phillips, Eileen Key, Cynthia Ruchti, and Becky Melby sampled the popular Door County sundaes.

Many of my stories, though, take place in pleasant places:

  • I’ve watched children in Peru, Indiana, defy gravity, homework and other laws of the universe by participating in their annual Youth Circus.
  • I’ve visited all 31 covered bridges in Parke County, Indiana.
  • I’ve ridden in an Amish buggy whose GPS consisted of the horse’s memory.
  • I’ve traveled through Door County, Wisconsin, researching that Martha’s-Vineyard-of-the-Midwest setting, including exactly how many yummy cherries are used in their famous Door County sundaes.

Currently, I’m staying close to home. But not for long, because we writers are a brave, daring breed.

Maybe I should set my next story in Hawaii.

 

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: If you were (are) a writer, where would you place your story?

Summer Driving: Going Crazy

Is road construction a good thing?

During my pre-driving days, I liked it, especially on long family trips. Bright-colored signs, flags, cones and barricades broke up eternal stretches of highway. Huge trucks, bulldozers, and graders growled and spouted smoke. Burly men (there were no women road construction workers then) drove the heavy equipment. Jackhammers appeared to enjoy breaking up Planet Earth. Lines of traffic snaked along roads, semitrailers’ air brakes whooshed and horns honked — all very exciting.

Road construction kept Dad and Mom occupied. Flapping maps, they forgot to monitor my siblings and me. When who-was-looking-at-whom crises arose, we kicked each other freely.

Dad’s mutterings soon graduated to addressing aloud the sins of fellow drivers and construction workers. A pastor, he did not swear. Instead, he called them Zeke, Pete, Cedric and Mephibosheth:

“Zeke and Cedric, are you going to yak all day? Or actually work?”

“Look out, Mephibosheth! Somebody else, take the wheel!”

He addressed irritating women drivers as Gertrude. Unless he was really mad. Then they became Sister Shumpett.

“Sister Shumpett, are you trying to send us to Jesus?!”

We kids loved the drama.

As an adult, I’m not so thrilled. Traveling anywhere during summer, I go crazy. Hostile plastic barrels target my car. I drive in reduced lanes that can’t accommodate a skateboard, let alone semis rocking around me.

Other drivers go crazy, too. Construction zones become existential: “I drive. Therefore, I am.”

Our Visa bills for gas support that mantra. But that’s all we know in construction areas, as highway signs become mere mirages. Drivers rocket past at warp speed. Others meander across skinny lanes as if they are middle-schoolers riding bikes on a summer afternoon. Pete, Cedric, Mephibosheth, Gertrude and Sister Shumpett are alive and well on summer highways in this millennium, too.

So how can I ask a stupid question like, “Is road construction good?”

Before you add my name to the above list, consider this: The only thing worse than road construction is no road construction. In the Bahamas, Hubby and I nearly drove into the sea because no one had bothered to barricade a washed-out road, let alone, fix it. In Ecuador, we smacked our skulls repeatedly on a bouncing truck’s ceiling, following la calle para burros (the road made for burros).

We’ve also driven in Michigan, a state whose annual highway repair budget is $15.83.

Unfortunately, for family reasons, we continue to drive in Michigan. I may soon pull our pop-up camper, as Hubby insists I learn to spell him.

Look out, Zeke, Pete, Cedric, Gertrude, and Sister Shumpett!

And you thought you already were going crazy.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: So … is road construction a good thing?

Confessions of a Weekend Snowbird

Several winters ago, I flew to Florida. But only for a weekend. And only because of work.

Thanks to my in-laws, I realize snowbirding isn’t easy. Snowbirds deal with two sets of household worries. Before leaving the Midwest, they must forward mail, stockpile medicines, and empty refrigerators. By law, they cannot desert the state until they eat or give away every single egg.

I only had to stockpile frozen dinners for Hubby — and assure him I would try not to enjoy my work too much.

However, I faced wardrobe complications, digging through mountains of summer clothes for an outfit that fit. Usually I don’t even have to say the word “waistline” until May.

Migration itself proved challenging. At the airport, I, a sixtyish grandma armed only with expired Liquid-Plumr® coupons, was dusted for explosives.

The airline also implemented an aggressive program to increase passenger space. All zone four passengers, including myself, were tossed into compactors that crunched us into pillow-sized rectangles. We fit into the airplane seats, no longer suffering from lack of leg room.

Finally carted from the aircraft, I understood why snowbirds brave Florida migration tribulations. Palm trees, with real green leaves, fluttered a hello. Brilliant flowers abounded. No wonder the Spanish explorers named it “Flowery Land.”

Today, however, they might name it “Trailer Court Country.” Thousands bloom on the Florida landscape. These mobile home parks offer neighborhood lifestyles like no other. Need to borrow a cup of sugar? Simply stick your measuring cup out your window into your neighbor’s kitchen.

Need exercise? Walkers benefit physically and enjoy constant access to neighbors’ favorite episodes of The Andy Griffith Show — at Cape Canaveral sound levels.

If such excitement does not suffice, back out of a driveway amid the daily NASCAR Golf Cart Challenge.

I did enjoy the novelty of hearing, “You’re so young!” Throw in fresh seafood, and it doesn’t get much better than that.

Given my schedule, I did not see the ocean. Had I viewed its blue, sparkly waves, I might have, as my hospitable hosts urged, stayed much longer.

Instead, the heat chased us inside, where they turned on air-conditioning. I tried to imagine avoiding torrid Easter temperatures. Seeing Santa in a red tank top.

I envisioned myself in a bathing suit most of the year.

That prospect scared this temporary snowbird back to airport security, zone four passenger compactors, and a flight back to her Midwestern nest.

Are you a snowbird wannabe? Or do you prefer snuggling by the fire?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Airport Insecurities

airport-1515448_640-2The more Homeland Security tries to protect me at airports, the less secure I feel.

I appreciate their efforts. But my mother taught me to hang undies on clotheslines behind shirts, not display them to an airport’s entire population.

Some passengers appear comfortable with security procedures. A toddler accompanying Daddy at check-in attempted a striptease.

A young man in a nearby security line entertained a similar viewpoint. Clad only in overalls, he suddenly slid out of them. Grinning as passengers and officials gawked, he ambled through X-ray, wearing skinny shorts he’d concealed underneath.

As if that little surprise weren’t enough, the Weird Wand Committee greeted me for the umpteenth time this year.

Airports never have put me at ease. The hallways always resemble a buffalo stampede. Paying more than air fare for coffee and a muffin made me see red long before Red Level threats ever existed.

peanut-butter-cups-1021876_640However, I can’t escape the worst threat to my security: me. At a newsstand, I heard REESE’S Peanut Butter Cups, like sirens, calling my name. Hypnotized, I answered — then put the candy down, determined not to blow my diet. I bought a newspaper and exited, playing human bumper cars on my way toward Security.

As I searched in my purse for ID and boarding pass, I discovered a REESE’S Peanut Butter Cup!

My evil stomach had bypassed my brain and shoplifted candy.

No alarms sang, rang or buzzed, no lights flashed when I walked out. No steel doors blocked store exits, no iron cages dropped from the ceiling. No soldiers poked bazookas in my back. Where was the FBI? the CIA? Interpol? What kind of security system allows a dangerously unbalanced chocolate/peanut butter klepto to run loose in our nation’s airports?

The peanut butter cup emitted seductive fragrances, and I nearly gave in. But I forced myself back to the store, where I set up surveillance. While the clerk scanned merchandise like a robot, I slithered in and hid behind half-price pink polka-dotted luggage, sneaking candy from my purse. Studying the National Enquirer’s front page (did you know Elvis is one of Donald Trump’s children?), I sneaked the REESE’S Peanut Butter Cup back among its own wicked kind. Then I headed for Security before my degenerate stomach could grab a dozen more.

They haven’t learned how to x-ray consciences yet, have they?

Okay, ’fess up: what’s your least favorite airport story?

 

OMG, It’s Monday! Prayer: Pre-flight Meditations

airport-1543010_640O my God, riding a bicycle to the airport would have been faster than driving the interstates. Security officers searched me and my luggage again. And after tossing trash from my greasy airport breakfast, I realized I’d also tossed my boarding pass. … OMG, maybe You didn’t mean for us to fly?