Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Ripley's got nothin' on me!

The last leg of our driving trip from Chicago to a book engagement at the Woolly Worm Festival in Beattyville KY last week was breathtaking. Never in my sixty-one years on planet earth have I driven so many consecutive miles surrounded by a more glorious fall splendor. Spontaneously (and suddenly, according to Big George, which was perhaps my subconscious payback for his last veering - second paragraph) I couldn't help but dive off the four-lane into the colorful back roads for a slower and more intimate submersion into God’s splendor.

George, who was taking a turn at map reading, deftly eyeballed the map and charted our route back to the interstate. But for an hour or so we took our wind-y time to explore an unlined two-lane (yes, there is two-way traffic on the road in that picture, which is reminiscent of many scary places I drove in England back in 1995), stopping when something, anything, caught our attention. This time it was a flock (a word that sounds WAY too pretty) of buzzards or vultures or whatever they were, thickly perched on telephone poles, wires and tree branches off to the right of this scene. (They are not what I’m trying to show you.)

After noticing the mass of those ugly whatevers, I eked along until I came to this little pullover place where, since the car was visible from both directions, it felt safe to get out, rummage the car for the camera and then saunter a few paces closer to my subjects to snap a dozen pictures or so.

I exited the driver’s side and walked around the front of the SUV to the passenger-side back door, retrieved the digital camera, turned it on, stepped toward my subjects and . . . WHOOOSH! I suddenly looked like an airborne, backward-swimming cartoon character since, believe it or not, I slipped on a banana peel! Out there in the middle of NOWHERE! What, I ask you, are the odds?

You can see (well, the picture is kinda small) my slip-n-sliding trail on the ground just off to the right of the back door. I took more pictures of the smashed banana peel than I did of the whatevers! Never in my life have I slipped on a banana peel (nor do I know anyone who has) and I had to drive three states away, spontaneously veer off onto a back road, notice a gathering of ugly somethings, cruise to a “safe” spot in the remote location, walk around to my SUV's back door and take a few steps toward a flock of BUZZARDS (or whatevers) to do so.

Luckily I didn’t hurt anything since my backside didn’t touch the ground due to my stupendous aerodynamic flight pattern. But let me just say I went a long way for this Traveling Laugh, which is much more fun to write about than the incident felt while I was airborne.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Traveling with Mr. McNally (.com)

I write to you this morning from just outside Cincinnati, home of the Purple People Bridge. We’re (Big George and me) on our way to Beattyville KY where I’ll be mainstaging 2 PM Saturday at the Woolly Worm Festival. (You’re sure to receive a report on THAT!) Luckily we made it to our hotel last night since Mr. McNally, whom I often rely on, proved to me that yesterday I should NOT have done so—at least all the time.

My husband was behind the wheel and I rode shotgun reading to him from my printout of what Mr. McNally had to say about our upcoming junctures. The first time George needed a hint (we knew the way up until Indianapolis), McNally said to take I-465 E to I-465 S to get to I-74 E. George said why go E to end up going S when the sign at this split says S is right HERE? (Okay, he didn’t say any of that, he just veered.) Can you sing here we go loop-de-loop? George 0, McNally 1.

When we got closer to Cincinnati, I read McNally’s instructions to George again. This time he listened. Too bad. Can you say here we go loop-de-longer-and-longer-but-never-find-the-hotel? Tie game. (George, winning ugly like da Bears last Monday night!)

Before departing on this trip, I found a new dog boarding facility for Kornflake. The kennel’s website said we should NOT use any online instructions (read Mr. McNally and Mr. Mapquest) since they both seemed to think he was located about a mile West of where he really is. Then again, I’ve arrived plenty of times using printouts, and all went well, so I guess it’s a game of chance, ey?

Every once in awhile I consider getting a GPS system. Then again, if it’s always right (and is it?), ah, sweet mystery of life where art thou, and how much might I miss thee dueling with my honey for my traveling entertainment.

Monday, October 16, 2006

A spoonful of sugar (Oh, honey, honey)

In the Grand Scheme of Traveling Incidents, some events are soon forgotten. But sometimes, you don’t forget (a miracle for me) and you’re saddled with a need to document the episode—with the officials. Thus was the case after my 11.5 hour captivity in the Pittsburg Airport (scroll to return trip).

In order to share my thoughts with the powers that be, I tooled around American Airline’s website (or maybe it was my AAdvantage account—yes, we have already come to the end of my memory miracles) and found a place to submit feedback. One of the drop-down menus on the form presented two choices which I’ll sum up as Good News and Bad News.

First I submitted a Good News form which named the names of two gate agents who remained upbeat, kind, sensitive, TRUTHFUL, hopeful, polite and helpful throughout a very long day. Next I filled out the Bad News form regarding this same incident which entailed a brief summary of my numerous delays and a complaint about my luggage, or rather lack thereof. I quickly received auto e-mails confirming that my messages were received. I felt proud of me (doesn’t take much) that at least I spoke my mind to the airlines rather than mumbling only to myself, my spouse and a host of friends--again. (Okay, I did that, too.) I figured that was The End.

But alas, a week or so later I received an e-mail from AA containing the Good News that they were SORRY about my day and that for my trouble they’d credited my frequent flyer account with 5,000 miles. I was grateful and am still in shock since airline complaints often fall into the same black hole as political campaign promises. Why, I wondered, did this particular complaint produce an apology and a “thanks for your loyalty?”

I can’t help but think my spoonful of earnest verbal sugar regarding two congenial and attentive gate agents might have set the perspective stage for the receipt of my complaint. Perhaps someone noticed I wasn’t strictly a whiner. And that would of course be a Mega-miracle, both that they noticed, and that I’m not. Right, honey?


Oh, honey. Honey, honey, honey. Hows bouts you get yourself a drop-down menu so I know exactly where to file my … thoughts concerning this issue?

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

On Bears and BBQ

A couple weeks ago a kind and astute reader e-mailed to inform me of a typo on my upcoming book tour website page. Although folks at That Bookstore in Blytheville, Arkansas ("The natural state") are expecting me on November 9, a slip of the finger had me traveling to Alaska ("North to the future"). You physics experts will immediately recognize that AK does not equal AR.

I’m excited about my AR stop since it’s not only at a WONDERFUL book store complete with a potbelly stove (I've been there before), but it's in BBQ country. I can almost taste the dry rub seasonings as I type. Mm-mm-mm. However, I also have to admit I’m sorry I'm not going to AK this tour because AK is beautiful. Stunningly beautiful. And WILD. My only AK visit thus far found me traveling from Anchorage to Wasilla to the Homer Spit to Valdez and back again.

But it was during a stay at the scenic Motherload Lodge in Hatcher Pass that I experienced THE most unusual traveling episode : a dead bear behind the bar. A Real Dead Bear. Let me clarify that was in AK with BEAR, not AR with BBQ. (And do you have ANY idea how many times I’m checking the handiwork of my swiftly typing fingers here? And how I once again had the STATES’ INITIALS BACKWARDS the first go-around! GHEESH!)

But back to the dead bear in AK. We checked into the Motherload Lodge, left for the day and returned late that afternoon to find someone standing outside flagging traffic past the driveway breathlessly announcing, “Sorry! We’re CLOSED!”

“But we’re staying here. You have our luggage.”

“Oh. Then it's okay to come in. But so you know, I just shot a bear and he’s behind the bar.” And so it was so.

Here’s the glorious thing about those rough and tumble AK folks: nothing stops them. Not even a dead bear behind the bar. They straddled the bear's warm body in order to draw themselves beers around since there was no other way to reach the tap! I witnessed it with my own eyes. I even took pictures (hey, I’m an old farm girl) which I will NOT post here since, well, I’m sure they’d be a little TOO rough and tumble for some of you. In the strange aftermath it was all very exciting, not to mention surreal and sleep prohibiting.

Even if you're not a physics expert you may wonder what the bear was doing behind the AK bar. Simple: reeking havoc with the booze bottles--before he was shot. We were told that no matter how they tried to "let him out," he would not go. (Hey, bar snacks!) When the owners' dog appeared and started challenging the bear, things got out of control, thus leaving only one option.

But Charlene, how did the bear get behind the bar to begin with? I hear you asking. He climbed an outside staircase and came in through (as in slashing and clawing through) a window screen, then lumbered through the empty dining room, down the hall PAST OUR BEDROOM DOOR, then on down the interior staircase into the bar. Imagine their surprise!

You know, this whole slip-of-the-finger obviously set me to ruminating about BBQ and bears, but it also caused me to speculate about something else. I wonder if this is how our luggage ends up in the AL Luggageland Graveyard instead of say home with me in IL. Just one teensy typo can make a wild world of difference, ey?

Monday, October 09, 2006

Digital Decisions - UPDATE!

The kind and generous daughter of a friend of ours took pity on my pitiful self and procured me a FREE battery! (No askie, no tellie—although I’m assured it was a legal procurement.)

Ahhhhh, I feel all powerful again. At least until my New Every Two offer swings around and I finish my shopping, at which time I’ll momentarily be just another stupid who doesn’t know how to use her new equipment.

But in the blissful meantime, thanks to those of you who made suggestions. Misery does love company, especially cyber company with inquiring minds and a few fresh ideas for a fellow traveler's conundrum.

By the way, my husband is a subscriber to this blog, which I forgot. After reading my teensy comment about dropping my phone in the toilet, he kindly (HA!) reminded me (bless his steel-trap engineering brain) that I didn't drop my cell phone in the toilet but rather the dog's water dish.

For the record, I do not stand corrected as to the "where" I dropped the phone in the water, but the number of times--which officially stands at two. And George, since I told my blog readers not to ask about the toilet incident (even though one reader told me that was cruel), that includes YOU!

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Digital Decisions

Wouldn't you know it: I'm not eligible for my New Every Two phone discount (including the two months of "early" grace they offer with this program) until five weeks from now, just enough time to have to live through one of my densest travel schedules without an upgrade.

The untimely re-up wouldn't be a big deal if my phone wasn't misbehaving and I wasn't so attached to the You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman ring song I long ago downloaded (read all about this humiliating experience in the TwinkleGram's 10/20/05 archived edition -- bottom of the page) and assigned to my husband's incoming calls. I don' t know if those Important Extras transfer to new phones, or when, in a dying last gasp, my current fading phone might simply go silent, never to affirm me again.

You might not consider the soulful belting out/ringing/singing of Natural Woman very businesslike, but it's only assigned to My Man (Mr. Retired) who doesn't call very often because he patiently waits to hear from me. I call to let him know I've arrived, or that I'm waiting for my food, I am well, I think I’m catching a cold, the plane is delayed, or on time, I feel crabby, I just noticed a sweet scene in the airport, the meeting was great or lacking, I'm back in my hotel room, made it through the security check point, waiting for my luggage, locked out of my car, wishing he were here, out at the curb, looking down the circular drive in front of the airport, waiting for my prince to arrive in his carriage to welcome and whisk me home again.

Hearing that song belt out of my handbag or pocket, knowing who's on the other end before I even look at the caller ID, is a great reminder that yes, I am a natural woman, even though when I'm on the road I often feel more like an unnatural disaster.

But back to my phone dilemma. One of my phone’s problems is that if I'm traveling in Verizon’s "extended networks," which I often am, the original-equipment battery will no longer hold a charge throughout an entire day. Why it uses more battery juice in extended networks I don’t know. Perhaps because it (whatever makes a cell phone work) has to . . . extend so far?

Too bad I recently lost my spendy backup battery, ey? And sure, I can replace the tired battery, but I'm only FIVE WEEKS away from not having to do that. But sadly, a good part of the time my "portable"--HA!--phone now forces me to leash myself to a wall or car socket. Not handy, especially when all of YOU are already hogging all the airport/coffee shop/anywhere sockets. (Feel free to explain yourselves in the comment section.)

Another "issue" with my phone: missing parts. It’s missing parts because I've dropped it so many times. Never on a soft carpet, of course, and once in a toilet (don’t ask) and several times during failed attempts to retrieve it I’ve had to kick it out from under here and there. But it's still basically WORKING, so do I really want to hurry up and get rid of a phone that keeps on calling after taking so many fallings?

I have to stop typing now because I have a decision to make. Do I invest in a tide-me-over-for-five-weeks battery? (Seems such a waste.) Do I ride out the five weeks to save the bucks (times are tough), keep my power cord in my pocket and the phone turned off when I'm not in a position to answer it anyway? (Some of you might be thinking my husband could use the peace and quiet, but keep that to yourselves, okay?) Or do I bite the financial bullet and get a new phone now, before the upcoming hectic travel schedule? And if that is my choice, which phone do I buy? Can I even make a decision AND get acquainted with a newbie in five short weeks?

Do I make the giant leap to a SMARTPHONE like travel tech guru Phil Baker suggests, one that could also replace my HP iPAQ, which I ADORE and that gets me on the internet (in Wi-Fi zones) during trips when I choose to leave my laptop behind? Would I dare attempt to use a new whiz-bang SMARTPHONE (perhaps one way smarter than me and thus not affirming but humiliating?) on a book tour when I’m too tired to tackle new technology?

When you're self employed, these decisions need to be made by you. "Corporate" isn't setting things up, paying the bills, making the tough decisions. In my case there's only me. A natural woman. A natural traveling woman traveling with a tired battery and a few missing parts.

Yup, that would be me.

I'll keep you posted as to my decision. Just don't expect me to CALL you with it, what with the battery situation and all. But if you should hear a SMARTPHONE (and are they really THIS smart?) singing “You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman,” you’ll know I’m nearby and that my husband, Big George, has something important to tell me.