Wednesday, September 27, 2006

A cacophony of traveling companions

I was awakened early this morning by a LOUD Traveling Band of birds outside my bedroom window here in Minnesota where I come "hide" to write. Red-winged Blackbirds, to be exact. My favorite. If a celebrity (say Grover from Sesame Street) asked me what type of bird I'd like to be, there you have it.

I always admire these brave birds as they tenaciously cling to the very tops of wildly swaying roadside stalks, cheering me on, extending their happy trills as I zing past them in my SUV as though I'm a marathon runner in desperate need of their offerings. Which I am.

But today, rather than watching me pass by, they discovered me planted for a spell. I wrenched my groggy self out of bed, walked down the flight of old creaky farm house steps and went out on the front porch in my flannel PJs to get a look-see. Huddled into myself against the early morning chill, I stood staring at the towering pine trees come alive with hundreds of cheering cheerleaders. Three of them were perched like black and red morning stars at the very tops of the trees. They seemed to be leading their chorus of fellow travelers suspended in the branches below them, no doubt on their way south. Lucky things. "Thank you, my traveling companions," I whispered into the brisk breezes blowing their way. "Thank you for stopping to say hello, for stopping to say good-bye."

The damp cold finally chased me in and nature called (although perhaps not in that order), so I'm not sure how long they stayed in their green wayside, but I think of them now as I type, wish them well as they dart across the friendly skies while my fingers race across these familiar keys.

Yes, thank you, dear Red-winged Blackbirds, for showing me how to cling tightly to the edges of life on the road, how to cheerfully land for a rest now and again before moving on to the next place. Thank you.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Middle Man Strikes Again

I experienced a Traveling Incident some time ago (one of about a billion) and it's funny how often I think about it. In fact, I've been thinking about it a lot today since I've had occasion to look at my index finger several times. Let me explain.

During the boarding process I arrived at my aisle seat (yes, women strive for them, too) near the center of the plane, nodded at the gentleman in the middle, dropped one bag on the floor and kicked it under the seat in front of me, loaded the other in the overhead, then plopped myself down. (Okay, gently lowered myself so as not to break my hip on the ever-closer-together arm rests.) I wasn't really in the mood to talk but Middle Man asked me if I was coming or going, then explained that he and Window Man were on their way to present . . . wherever. To tell the truth, I was only half listening since I was much in need of a relaxing nap. I smiled, leaned back, closed my eyes and didn't give either of them another thought. I lived happily in my own little content world.

After liftoff and considerable flight time, I heard (light sleeper) the drink cart closing in on me so I opened my eyes. Middle Man says, "Aren't you afraid you're going to lose that ring?" It's as though opening my eyes opened his mouth. Kinda creepy. How long, I wondered, has he been waiting to ask me that? Has he been staring at my face just waiting for my eyes to fly open?

I glance at my hands. I'm wearing several rings so I look at him to see if I can tell which one he's talking about. His eyes are locked on the index finger of my right hand where I'm wearing a ring between my first and second knuckles. Yes, the ring is a tad big for that "perched" location, but I occasionally get attached to things/behaviors (until I get attached to the next one) and I'm currently and emotionally attached to this oddity. The ring is an eighth-grade graduation gift from my now deceased parents and it makes me feel close to them. I miss them even more certain times of the year and this would be one of those seasons. I opened my jewelry box a few days ago, spotted it, realized that with effort I could cram it over my knuckle and so . . . here we are.

I decide to answer his security question since he seems genuinely worried for me. "No. It won't come off. Luckily," I continue, grabbing the ring and giving him a demo of my words, "I've grown old enough to inherit my grandmother's giant knuckles. The trick was getting in on!"

We receive our sips of liquid and a small bag of something (back in the good old days when you got, say like four peanuts for free, remember those good old days?). We artfully arrange them on our trays. We chat, I close my eyes and go back into my world, ready to resume my slumber.

But all the time I'm wondering, What is he thinking about me now, studying on me now? What, I wonder, should I be worrying about me NOW?!

I clasp my left hand around my right index finger, secure the ring in place--even though it would take a band of gypsies to remove it. And then I wonder, might Middle Man be one?


Eyes still closed (so as not to open his mouth) I unclasp my death grip from my ring. I blantantly open my hand on my knee, palm down, letting the ring dance right in front of his eyes.

Some people worry too much, I think as I doze off.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

You make me feel so . . .

I'd like to take a moment to thank the man in front of me, the one who recently went through the security checkpoint, left his laptop behind and was called back to retrieve it.

I'd like to thank the woman talking on her cell phone and scurrying to her gate who first dropped her cell phone, then her purse, then her cell phone.

Thank you to those who enter business meetings with food stains on your clothes, circles under your eyes and a prayer on your lips that nobody notices you haven't brushed your teeth since, well, there was no time to buy a new tube (airplane late, again) of toothpaste and of course you couldn't travel with such a dangerous ORANGE-ALERT! item.

Thanks to those of you who barely fit in bathroom stalls with your suitcases (and those GIANT rolls of toilet paper), who stand holding your hands in front of you under sink faucets that are NOT automatically activated and then act like you knew it, and who survive countless toilet flushes (feel the spray beneath you) before you're ready for them to flush.

Thank you everyone who buys a book in the airport because you forgot your reading material--again. (And if you buy MY books in airports, a special kudos.

Bless the hearts of those who snore on airplanes, bang your heads on the overhead bins (yet again), forget to turn your noise reduction headsets off after the "turn off all ..." announcement since you didn't hear it, what with your noise reduction headset and all.

WAHOO to those who make your own corporate, self-employeed decisions to buy the snack pack on the airplane (even though you swore you wouldn't), and find that entertaining yourself by counting the little wad of cashew nuts before chowing them down is not only the highlight of your day, but your best meal.

A nod to those who talk to strangers, e-mail in concourses, mutter to television news casters in an attempt to feel like SOMEBODY knows you're out there in another time zone doing your exhausting thing.

Thank you, one and all, for making me feel so normal, so One With The Travel Weary . . . so understood.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

A Wi-Fi and Wayport Neighborhood

I came to Omaha Thursday to present on a humor panel at the Omaha LitFest (if you are anywhere near here next year during LitFest and like to read or enjoy art, this is a MUST STOP! and am now gearing up to pack up to fly home today. I am happily tired (stayed up three hours past my bedtime last night), creatively refreshed and still wallowing in the afterglow of this successful and eclectically ripe gathering. Yes, it was a business trip for me, but one which smacked of vacation since I got to rub shoulders with Those I Read, attend juicy, informative, brave, vulnerable and lively panels and hang out in Omaha’s Old Market area, which itself is worth the trip.

Packing up is no small chore for me since tidiness isn’t my mantra. When I arrive in a hotel/motel room I fling things here and there in an attempt to create a familiar nest of sorts. If I’m only in for a night or two, no housekeeping, please. Don’t make me pick up my stuff (cram my makeup back in a bag, “hide” -- HA! Like THAT is humanly possible in a hotel room! -- my valuables and undies) just so you can make my bed. I like things ruffled.

As I gather and pack this morning, I remember my newest and latest half-hour friend. We first met the day of my arrival (hers, too) in the internet café off the lobby of this Embassy Suites, she a tall lanky blonde, me a short fluffy salt-and-pepper head. We were looking to slam a good dose of caffeine while accessing the “free” Wi-Fi which we were errantly, as it turns out, told existed in the internet café.

By happenstance we two strangers parked our backsides and laptops in contingent work stations and discovered out loud and together that all internet roads led to payment. “You got anything?” “$9.95 for twenty four hours.” “Wait, I’m picking up another . . .” “No, not gonna work.” “They’ve got us.” It fries my hide to pay extra for Wi-Fi or Wayport in spendy hotels. Yes, there was free internet available in the internet café just off the lobby, but it's on one computer back in the corner, the one with a landline, the one with the human line. “Might as well pay the $9.95 for the Wayport in my room. Time is short today.” “Yes.” Ta-ta.

The next morning at breakfast (the one included with the price of all Embassy Suites stays and which seems much more difficult to supply every morning than a port), there was my new friend. “Well good MORNING!” We smiled, shared a breakfast table and pieces of our lives as though we’d known each other for decades. Turns out we have numerous things in common. We exchanged website info, promised to keep in touch and off we went, she to finish her work, check out and head home, me to move on with my next Big Literary Day. Life on the road is a strange beast. But sometimes, just sometimes, two temporary nests built in the same tree on the same night make for a friendly, albeit ever so temporary, neighborhood.

When I finally pick up my hotel bill , the one I’m looking at right now on the floor, the one they slid under the door in the wee hours like a stealth bird adding one more twig to my messy nest, I shall find thirty bucks tacked on to it for my internet services. I could grind my teeth over this again, but hey, I’m going home today and I’m working to leave these niggling nags behind. My husband’s been holding down the Family Nest and he’s dealt with his own issues.

Besides, I’ve already checked out my new friend’s website (Wow! I’m IMPRESSED!) and sent her a quick e-mail, and now I’m sending you this Traveling Laugh. If it hadn’t been for the unfulfilled promise of free Wi-Fi, none of this (new friend, writing in my PJs) would have happened. These memories and that attitude, my fellow traveler, are what I’m most hoping to pack up and take home with me. Life’s too short to lug a load of sour grapes around. My suitcases are already heavy enough.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

N0 (or nothin' but) Time to Spare

What’s this? A single blog post written in two days’ worth of consecutive order? Yes. But try it anyway. You might like it—or at least relate.

Sunday AM, September 10

I'm sitting in an airport, again. It turns out I have (well, had) ninety minutes to kill. In order to help the clock fly I just polished off a 9 AM “brunch” at Manchu Wok. Rice or noodles--and I pick noodles--plus two entrees (orange chicken and broccoli beef). I’m still swilling the lemonade. You know, one of those “banned” beverages the TSA believes I might use to . . . well, I’m not sure what they think I might do with it, but I must admit I’ve never tried to light a lemonade with a match before. Who knows!

I ended up with this pocket of time because I arrived early at O'Hare, checked my bags curbside (as usual) and felt very smug as I passed by the snaking terminal bag-check lines (now THAT’S got double meaning!) of people kicking and dragging their worldly goods along. Then the woman waiting to check my documents at the head of this odd and somewhat isolated little American Airlines security checkpoint stood yawning as I walked right up, then right on through the “don’t touch the sides” tunnel—zero waiting. I use this particular “secret passageway” when I'm flying American Eagle, which seems like always lately. I don't know where the Big Boy AA aircraft fly, but I'm assuming they still exist.


Oh, MY! I’m undoubtedly sitting here on the verge of countless perils since I just remembered MSG is an excitotoxin! I’m sure my brunch contained a billion milligrams of excitotoxins. If you have a moment, Google “effects of MSG” and read those first few links including Threat of terrorists? Stay alert. Excitotoxins? HELP!


Having thankfully survived my hearty blast of excitotoxins, I lived to sit in an another airport. Pittsburg, this time. Today I arrived nearly four hours early for my flight. Long story, but it had to do with hilly terrain, a rental car and the threat of fog (warning signs everywhere) and torrential rain. Let's just say none of the above slowed me down more than two miles per hour. Although I did not zip through security today (which, to the best of my observation and experience, is much more rigid here in Pittsburg than O'Hare), I still have All This Time. Enough time to STEER CLEAR OF EXCITOTOXINS while concurrently spending too many bucks buying smeary face products with which I cannot legally travel. Luckily, I’ve spent enough that they’ll ship them for free.


Seems I was optimistic about arriving 4 hours early. I now find I arrived 5.5 hours early. It occurs to me that “nonstop flights” are often “nongo,” or at their very best, “go-later.”


Seems 5.5 hours was optimistic since it turns out I arrived at least 6.5 hours early, which turned into 8, which. . . . After “mechanical delays” turned later-later-later-whoops “canceled,” a rerouting to another airline which then postponed (Okay, I am CRAVING a high dose of excitotoxins by now! Anything to break the tedium!), another rescheduled late-night flight out on the last flight out—which was late, I finally made it home in the nick of time to wait forty minutes before filling out my missing luggage (two-bags’ worth) report.

The good news is that after driving back to the airport this morning to personally look for my bags (that sweet and caring recorded voice told me she was so sorry to report SHE hadn’t located them yet), I found them hiding right there on the floor in front of the conveyor belt. No WONDER they couldn’t find them! Too obvious.

Thankfully I recovered them in just enough time to swirl their contents before tomorrow morning’s flight. I shall try to be early, although not too.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Accidental Tourist

Yesterday my husband and I took a one-hour architectural boat tour on the Chicago River. Our “guide” was extraordinary in terms of enthusiasm, knowledge and his ability to dispense so many specifics while we could still detect each building in his repertoire. He made everything clear and interesting.

I was surprised by the number of new structures along the river since my last visit and in awe of the artistic and brainiac talent that, decade after decade, steps forward. To build a towering building with meaning, purpose and style, now that is something.

I haven’t taken that tour for probably thirty years, perhaps more. After all, I live in the Chicago suburbs so why would I act like a tourist in my own back yard? Well, the notion floated in on a whim. (So poetic!) It happened like this.

I attended a business luncheon in Chicago; my retired husband served as my handsome “limo” driver (his vehicle looking suspiciously like a Buick LeSabre); it was a beautiful day; when he picked me up after my meeting I said, “Let’s DO something while we’re down here!” So off to Navy Pier he drove us since we were in that vicinity anyway.

We lucked into a great parking spot for which we paid $19 for two hours, but still, it was a GREAT parking spot! We eyeballed one of the kiosks selling boat tickets, and just like that we bought two. The tour started in fifteen minutes, so by the time we got to the boat and settled in, we were on our way. ‘Twas nothing short of serendipitous and perfect timing.

Afterwards we dined on fabulous shrimp at Bubba Gump’s while sitting outdoors watching passersby, one of my favorite forms of entertainment. Since I spend so much time in airport terminals, I guess I’m just lucky that way. We chatted, we laughed, we played Forrest Gump trivia with our waiter. We drove home talking about what a good time we had, wondering why we didn’t “do” Chicago more often.

You know, the odd part is that I simply did not have time to dink around for an afternoon, and yet I did. I am refreshed, refueled and ready to travel on. For that spontaneous touristy afternoon I stayed in my own “back yard,” I am thankful. I highly recommend you do the same.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Traveling Veils

I’m driving down the street yesterday one block from my permanent residence when I spot a green Volkswagen bug. “OH! There’s DAVID!” I say out loud to my empty car. I gun the gas pedal and start to pull up next to him at the light so I can wave. My hand hovers over the horn. What did he do with his long black curly hair? I wonder as I catch the back of the teensy round shape of the driver’s head.

But just before I give the horn a blast I am struck with a bolt of reality: David and his green Volkswagen bug aren’t in my hometown in Illinois, they’re in Minnesota in the town where I often go “hide” to write.

Later that day I see Nancy walking down the sidewalk. It’s been too long since we’ve had a chance to chat. I’ll catch her attention and maybe we can grab a cup of coffee.

WAIT! Charlene, you are in ILLINOIS, not Minnesota, sothat is not Nancy!

I’ve encountered this same phenomena on the “other end” too, this thinking I see people who are hundreds of miles away. It’s like I pass through a veil—but it sticks to me. One veil after another, they stack up until everything looks foggy. These time/space/place hiccups are the hitches in my constant git-along, git-alonging little darling traveling schedule. It’s the same reason I have to make sure I keep my hotel room number in my handbag since one number blurs into the next, and then I lock myself out, and then I can’t even remember which room I’m in to ask for another key.

As we ready to say good-bye to those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer (I WISH I’d had them!) I realize with a sigh that the blurry days of travel will stick with me. Oh, well, at least I see friends nearly everywhere I go--whether they're actually there or not.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Why I birthed Traveling Laughs, a travel humor blog

For a couple years I’ve been talking (and man, I can TALK!) about creating a travel blog to help we (yes, I include myself here since I find reading my own words fascinating) road warriors remember that a good laugh - especially at ourselves - can help to eradicate stress and therefore keep our heads from blowing off. Of course since I’m an author currently writing a book a year (read Constant Looming HUGE Deadlines – ) punctuated by publicity stints and a month-long book tour schedule, a speaker who gypsies herself from here to there spreading words of Good Cheer ( ), a one-woman office operation (read I do my own book work – blaaach) and a proud grandmother who simply MUST travel five hours to snag a hug from my sweet munchkin, I’m simply too busy to act on my words.

Until now.

Now, since the day my lipstick and giant Tupperware water bottle became illegal to carry on the airlines, although thank GOODNESS they’ve at least reneged on the lipstick. I find I simply MUST write this blog if for no other reason than to help keep myself laughing!

Thus, in a cosmic melding of my ongoing urge to develop a Traveling Laughs blog, my Real Life and writing a TwinkleGram (my monthly e-mail newsletter about how I developed a criminal mind during my first flight the day after the above TSA ban, I realized I was also birthing Traveling Laughs.

I hope you enjoy the ongoing ride. I’m not sure how often I’ll drop you a word or 400, but when a Traveling Laugh hits me, I’ll be sure to wing it your way.

Peace and grins,

PS To glean a peek into the clandestine methods a parched-lip, creative type can dream up to beat the TSA’s ban on all things smeary and thirst quenching, visit and look for the August 24, 2006 edition.