Tag Archives: Travel

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Some compare a writer’s life to a monk’s: starved, withdrawn from the speaking/smiling world and — like author Annie Dillard — incarcerated in a closet-like room decorated only with a picture she drew of a cow pasture.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

Summer: the Season of Flip-flops

June — and flip-flops — have invaded America for the season, appearing in offices, fancy restaurants and even at weddings. But the change in footwear reflects only a tiny fraction of our monumental summer lifestyle shift.

Flip-flopped Schedules

School is out, graduates have flipped tassels, and parents/teachers/students have flip-flopped their schedules. School buses hibernate, and millions of children remain at home to spend quality time with beloved siblings.

College kids also have abandoned books, eight-o’clock classes and the joys of dormitory living to converge on home. All to spend quality time with their parents’ Internet, refrigerators and car keys.

Flip-flopped Fun Time

We empty nesters change our stodgy ways, as relatives and friends — freed from winter’s icy grasp — target travel in all fifty states, particularly those where mooching a free month’s lodging is legal. Especially if we nesters live near the ocean, the mountains or Disney World.

In view of the above, Congress should enact a law that establishes a ceiling on laundry levels, especially beach towels and sheet changes. No wife, mother or hostess should awaken on a sunny morning to find herself a victim of a hostile laundry takeover.

Flip-flopped Food

Also, before Congress adjourns for a well-deserved (?) vacation, why not demand laws requiring automatic shut-offs on kitchen ranges from June through August? After all, salad actually tastes yummy during summer. Although in a dietary flip-flop, ice cream does, too.

I vote for ice cream.

And for s’mores. I dislike marshmallows, yet when summer arrives, I admit an urge to bury myself in bear-infested woods, building campfires whereby I roast them (marshmallows, not the bears) and me. I sacrifice delicious chocolate bars and perfectly good graham crackers by slathering them with marshmallows, even feeding s’mores to my grandchildren.

Dastardly grandma crimes of this magnitude committed in February might evoke stern frowns from nutritionally correct parents. But what can they say, when possessed by similar summer madness, they probably buy them deep-fried Oreos at county fairs?

Flipped

Occasionally, the carefree, “whatever” lifestyle of summer does us in. Maybe we’ve listened to “Good Vibrations” too many times with the car windows down. Sniffed one too many citronella candles. Carried too many pounds of sand in the seats of our bathing suits.

Perhaps months of wearing flip-flops not only have affected our arches, but also our brains.

But isn’t summer worth it?

Flip-flopPostcard

How will June, July and August flip-flop your life this year?