Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Traveling with an Amateur

Earlier this year, my husband and I readied to take a cruise. However, I broke my leg and fell down; while sitting on the couch (!), my husband blew out his knee and couldn’t get up. We not only needed the Clapper, but a crane, a cast, a surgical room, crutches, a walker, electronic equipment, a therapist . . . The list goes on and on. Needless to say, the cruise—all traveling—didn’t happen for quite some time. But alas, two knee replacements and a healed bone later, we’re walking carefully and looking forward to staying upright, even on our sea legs, during next week's cruise. (Please, Lord!)

I challenged us (read George) to pack for a two-week trip sans checking a bag with the airlines. I’ve business traveled often enough, and faithfully read the wise Joe Brancatelli’s drum-beat against it, to know better than to ever again check a bag. “No problem,” my husband said. “What do I really have to take anyway?”

“For starters,” I said, (see hand on cocked hip) “dress shoes, gym shoes and sandals. Two pair of your size 13 shoes will consume half a carry-on."

“Why do I need dress shoes?” queried Mr. Retired.

I shall spare you the discussion that ensued regarding “proper dining attire,” which, at the very least, also includes a sport jacket and dress pants—and no, cargo pants won’t cut it, not even if they’re “light beige.” But the most unbelievable tidbit wasn’t his desire to dress down; I was stunned to realize my husband has not flown (read dealt with the TSA) since The Quart Bag!

“I can’t take my can of shaving cream?”

“No, dear.”

“Can I take the large toothpaste that has a lot of it squeezed out?”

“No, dear.”

“How do men shave?”

“They buy shaving cream when they arrive, and/or many men have switched to the shaving brush and bar soap method of yesteryear.”

Then he went through the list of dilemmas we seasoned travelers long ago figured out. (Or did we?) What, exactly, constitutes a liquid or gel? Does squishy hair stuff qualify as either of those. (“Yes, dear.”)

As of this moment, we own three brands of quart-size bags. I told him they each pack differently, depending on the size of your stuff. “Some are taller than wider; others are, well, just different. Do you want it to zip, double lock or change colors when you run your finger across it? And honey, do you realize if you take that large glass bottle of cologne, that’s all that will fit in your baggie? No, you don’t need to put your pills in there, too. Yes, you have to . . . .”

My husband is a kind, wise and clever man. He scoffed at our neighbors who had all their stuff confiscated because they didn’t even KNOW about the quart bag. “Don’t they listen to the news?” He simply couldn’t believe it.

And yet, even when you have heard about it, but not until you’ve actually dealt with The System, does it reveal its mystery.

This all got me to wondering about something. What brand of quart bag do YOU use? Is there one you’ve found to be more reliable, that stays closed, even when you’re cramming that one last teensy item into it? And as for shaving men, do you buy when you get there? Rough it with shower soap? Use a shaving brush and lather? And ladies, have you found a makeup remover that also moisturizes? A moisturizer for which a little dab will do ya? A smart makeup base that isn’t liquid or gel? And everyone, is there a teensy toothpaste made that lasts an entire week? Chime in, won’t you?

In the mean time, please send some positive vibes to my husband. The whole REALITY of the quart bag knocked him into a minor tizzy.

“Honey, I feel your pain.”

Don't we all?!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Desperate Measures

It’s scary how relieved one becomes to discover something one detests so much. Such is the case with me and public restrooms.

When I’m business traveling, there is no choice since “I have to go” = “I have to go.” This, of course, quickly escalates into The List of “I have to find a ladies’ room. That isn’t closed due to the always untimely cleaning person. That doesn’t have twenty women waiting in line. (HA!) That has toilet paper. That has a door on the stall that will close, and actually stay that way without contortions. That isn’t filthy. That flushes, and was flushed after the last user’s visit.”

To you male readers, I understand that your easier jobs don’t entail my entire list. And yet, when it comes to your more time-consuming bathroom duties, I know you get my drift here. Imagine what it would be like if your every pit stop involved so many variables! And especially imagine yourself always having to stand in the lines you see snaking out of the restrooms labeled WOMEN, DAMES, GALS, COWGIRLS, LADIES, FEMMES or ODD PICTURE OF SOMETHING THAT LOOKS LIKE IT’S WEARING A WOMAN’S HAIRDO AND/OR SKIRT SO I GUESS I’LL CHOOSE IT.

But the truth is, men usually don't have to stand in long restroom lines, so thank your lucky stars! Nonetheless, this blog post is all about you, so keep reading.

When I’m gearing up to go, but am not yet DESPERATE, I can afford the luxury of reordering my list, ruling out the inferior, heading down the concourse to the next ladies’ room, moving over one stall and/or first flushing (hoping it will) “content” that did not previously flush since there’s always the possibility someone simply forgot. I can, through years of involuntary training and endurance, hold the door, my breath and my patience. I can even hold my “content,” but I can only hold it for so long. Difficult decisions need to be prioritized and implemented, and as we all know, DESPERATE DESPERATENESS calls for DESPERATE ACTIONS. When I’m DESPERATE enough, I skip everything on that list but the “I have to find a ladies’ room” part.

Throughout my years of jogging through terminals, I’ve learned I can hurdle a “CLOSED FOR CLEANING” sign, endure all kinds of messes, get Very Creative when it comes to toilet paper (that was missing), stand on my head to check under stall doors for feet, invoke super-human tolerance skills to endure the line, and still make my flight. I am a grown-up woman possessing grown-up skills.

And now, Dear Male Readers, we’re back to you. At least one of you. (Apologies to all the sincere gentlemen--the majority of you--who understand the Mars/Venus thing. At least a little.) The POLICE OFFICER “one of you” who leisurely preceded me--as in right in front of me—into the mini store at a gas station during one of my road trips. There was no evidence or sound of sirens or squawking squawk boxes. We were just two folks walking single file on our way to the bathroom. Right in front of me, he tried the MEN’S door, but it was locked. Right in front of me, and in fact seeing me, hand outstretched heading for the WOMEN’s doorknob, he veered into the WOMEN's and clicked the lock. No asking or explaining. No shouting anything about an emergency. No DESPERATE begging for a line cut.

My emotional knee-jerk response was, WHAT?! Since I waited right outside the door, I heard the familiar seat-slamming-up-against-the-tank sound. Then I heard, um, an easy job in process. Then I heard a flush followed by a squirt of water in the sink. (Who was he kidding?!) By now, my arms were crossed and I was glaring when THAT MAN exited the WOMEN’s bathroom, grinning like it was all a one-big-family joke.

“Men can’t wait?” I asked incredulously. He turned on the charm, grinned some more, coyly shrugged his shoulders and waited for me to respond in kind. Waited for me to acknowledge that the entire incident was nothing more than an adorable kid caught with his hand in the cookie jar by his loving Aunt Betty. But he should have noticed my inhale.

That was RUDE!” I spewed in a gusting hurricane of words.

Yes, I all but yelled at a police officer. Who offered no apologies or explanations. He simply turned red and sheepishly slunk away like the "Bad boy!" he was. He knew. He knew!

Then I entered the WOMEN’s room, only to discover . . . you guessed it! The seat was still up.

Like I mentioned before, I am a grown-up woman possessing grown-up skills. One of them is the old knee-to-groin maneuver. If you’re ever thinking about cutting in front of a lady to use the LADIES’ room just because you don’t feel like standing in line, think twice. I might be that lady, but I likely won’t respond like one.

PS I had my husband read this before I posted it. He—way too defensively, I might add--tells me he (speaking for all men, of course) has waited in restroom lines. He mumbled something about sporting events and beer. To which I responded, “And don’t YOU try to cut in line in front of me to use the ladies’ room, either!”

PSS I know what some of you are thinking, and yes, I've seen women abandon the long lines outside the LADIES to sneak into the no-line MEN's. I know it happens. Just for the record, I don't like that behavior either. But at least when there's a dozen in the LADIES line (typical) and none in the MEN's (typical), I understand the temptation.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Survey Says

I recently noticed something, which doesn’t mean it’s new. It only means my sixty-something self has “awakened” to the fact that, at least in my area, the majority of fast- and faster-food restaurant and grocery receipts (check the back or the bottom) contain either a coupon for something free during your next visit--from them, or perhaps another merchant--or implore you to visit a website within 48 hours to fill out a survey about their service, which will enter you into a drawing to win some fabulous prize.

The problem is, I usually don’t notice these freebies and opportunities until they’re expired. I just missed a free hamburger from Burger King (where, gosh darn it, I can have it MY way!) because I didn’t read the fine print soon enough. However, my husband, who sniffs out coupons, receives calls from relatives asking if he has an extra haircut coupon, which he finds on the back of grocery receipts.

A waitress recently pointed out to me that my bill contained an offer for a free breakfast during my next visit. “Make sure you keep this copy of your bill when you check out,” she said, "and watch the expiration date." Sure enough, with the purchase of my next breakfast and a beverage (iced tea, in case you’re wondering), my friend got her breakfast for free because we used my coupon. Aside from the cost of her coffee, it didn’t cost me an extra cent to entertain. And guess what else? Although the waitress (not my usual that time) didn’t mention it, I got another coupon for a free breakfast, even though I’d only paid for one to begin with! Which made me wonder: how many of these have I missed? Honestly, the offer is presented in regular print at the bottom of the front of the receipt, but who reads that?

Microsoft (yes, that Microsoft), who cares about my potential (see new trademarked slogan here) sent me four—FOUR—follow-up e-mails inquiring about my satisfaction with their recent tech support. After several HOURS of dinking with my computer—even allowing them to “take it over” to work on the problem--my issue was not resolved, but they genuinely seemed to care by letting me know they were archiving my case, should I desire to reopen it some time in the future.

This entire "we care and want your business" phenomena gets me to thinking how wonderful it would be if the airlines, including our seatmates, handed out coupons and/or survey opportunities.

Or would it?

Phone this number to let us know if you arrived on time, and we’ll enter you into a drawing for a free snack pack.

Bring this coupon to the gate for your next flight, and WE will attach your gate-check bag tag. During a recent flight, we were handed our gate-check tags and the guy behind me said, after he sighed, “Remember when they used to put them on?”

Turn this into your flight attendant when you deplane. IMAGINE if we, the passengers, had to undergo evaluation sheets filled out by our seatmates! Or better yet, IMAGINE getting to fill one out in front of your LOUD seat companion, who would learn—because she’s watching your every move—that during her next trip, she’ll have to sit in the time-out chair across from the lavatory.

How’d you like my landing? Phone 1-800-get-down to use our automated system.

Did you truly find our skies ‘friendly’?

We’re sorry your flight was delayed. Please accept this coupon as our token of apology. It’s good for one free cab ride to your next transatlantic destination. See how THAT goes for you, buck-o!

Because we couldn’t serve our beverage cart today, this coupon is good for one free flight.* You could hardly believe your eyes when, right after touch-down, the flight attendant handed you this generous gift! Until . . . you noticed the fine print on the date/time-stamped coupon, and that teensy qualifying asterisk. *Coupon expires two minutes after presentation, and must be presented to gate agent in Oklahoma.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007


Earlier this week, our oldest son flew from Albuquerque (his hometown, and that of the International Balloon Festival) into Chicago O'Hare (my home airport) for a business trip, which meant I was part of the Picker Upper Crew rather than the Done Dropped Off Again. Travel from the pickup side is a whole new adventure. And my, how things have changed.

Let us take a mind’s ride through the history of The Greeting, at least as it’s changed at O’Hare Airport.
- -

Remember the good old days when . . . we used to press in around the arrival gate and try to glance down the loading bridges, straining to get a peek at the One We Loved heading straight for our open arms?

Remember when . . . we were first told we had to wait outside the security area for that to happen?

Remember when . . . we used to have a place to sit down while we were waiting?

Remember when . . . we used to pull our car up at the curb (we had a place to sit in our car!), turn on our flashers and cast our eyes about to get that first look at our loved one exiting the terminal—and WITH their luggage?

Remember when . . . the road traffic control person didn’t bang on your window when you slowed down your vehicle in order to scan the crowd for your loved one?

Remember when . . . we didn’t have cell phones, so the picker upper circled and circled, having no idea why, two circling hours later, their loved one still had not appeared?

Remember when . . . we all got cell phones, and thus we could happily call each other to report we, the arrivers, were standing in a long line to fill out a missing luggage claim, or we were still sitting on the tarmac, or . . . ?

Remember when . . .

WAIT! I don’t remember when O’Hare Airport put in a remote cell phone lot, because I’m always the arriver.
- -

When we left for the airport to pick up our son (Oh, HAPPY DAY!), I didn’t even know where the remote cell phone lot was located. Big George, my faithful picker-upper husband, has all but become One with the thing. So George drove us.
As was pre-arranged, we waited in our car, which we parked in the middle of the fenced in lot, until our Dear One called us, a call which came after he claimed his checked bag (it arrived on his same flight, halleluiah!) and headed for the curb, where, after a quick moving hug, you might call it, we catapulted both he and his luggage into the car before the road traffic control person had a chance to bust our chops.
- -
Remember when . . . greeting a loved one felt more like all was right with the world, rather than making you feel like you’d just auditioned for a James Bond movie by hiding out amidst a billion vehicles, activating after a phone call, then kidnapping your target right off the curb?

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The "Spirit" of Today's Airports

Some incidents are best forgotten (or disappear from our memories, even when we don't want them to), while others keep tapping us on the shoulder with a message, long after the moment has passed. Thus was the case for me after I flew out of Dayton OH a couple weeks ago. The message—and in this case it's multiple messages—has to do with the difference in "spirit" between small airports and mega ones, like Chicago O'Hare (hear me groan), my home airport, the one travel gurus keep saying, and with good reason, to avoid.

While I was making my way through Dayton's security line, a female voice announced over the loudspeaker that "an earring with a bunch of dangly stars on it" had been left at the security checkpoint. The owner should come claim it, she said, in a warm friendly voice. Even though I had not yet passed through (so to speak), I immediately checked my ears since I own many pairs of dangling starry adornments. Stars are my thing. And after all, I was in the area. But nope, two earrings accounted for.

Some time later, again came the earring announcement, which, in words, was an exact repeat -- aside from the fact that this time she started with "We still have . . . ." But this time, the female's tone of voice sounded like a cross between sorrow , sympathy and "Please, somebody, don't leave this beautiful thing behind!" Obviously the kind lady was concerned for the person who would one day discover her bobble done disappeared, likely while at 27,000 feet. "Please come to the security checkpoint to claim it," she nearly begged, her sympathy for the lose-ee clearly rising.

While standing in line to buy a bottle of water, the urgent tone of this second message caused me to start obsessing over what this earring looked like. Was it silver or gold? Multi-color or plastic? Chandelier in presentation, pinwheel, exotic . . .? Good thing I'm honest, I thought, otherwise I might go claim it for myself since it must be stunning to cause such concern. (Diamonds, perhaps?) Or maybe I should find out where unclaimed lost things end up (some giant warehouse somewhere, as I recall) and see if I can buy it. Honestly, I could not stop thinking about it. This is the type of stupid stuff that hijacks my brain when I'm travel weary.


By the time I unscrewed the cap on my water, another announcement thankfully interrupted my momentary insanity. This time the "found" item left at security was a cane with four feet at the base. I think this was followed by the starry earrings thing again, but I'm not sure since . . . .

WHAT?! Who needs to use a four-claw cane so badly that they go through the hassle of getting it through security, and then forget to pick it up? Are they crawling now and haven't noticed? Are they in a wheelchair? If you can believe it, this announcement was also repeated before I boarded. Thankfully, Dayton offers big comfy rocking chairs in their boarding areas in which I could sit and rock and ponder these things.

(Hear music from Jaws que up.)

And now, let's talk about O'Hare and other Monster Airports, where, at security checkpoints, I've left my driver's license, my laptop and sundry other items, as do tons of other people. Let's talk about O'Hare, where no personal announcements are made about anything. Nope, just cranky recorded canned warnings about unguarded bags, and unsympathetic information about delays, cancelations and gate changes. And where there is often NO waiting seat available in the gate area, let alone a comfy rocking chair. And the seats that are available are those molded things that were certainly not molded for my body that wants to slide right out of them. In fact, part of my time-passing time at O'Hare is spent trying to remain upright in those things!

Now I realize smaller airports offer a more personal feel, because, well, they're smaller. And I realize that if every item left behind at the security checkpoints at O'Hare came with an immediate announcement, they would rifle at us nonstop.

But still, wouldn't it be nice if the Big Guys occasionally offered a cheery grandmotherly sounding voice in their rotation of canned announcements saying something like, "You got everything, honey? You know it's easy to forget this or that when you have to strip nearly buck naked and turn over all your valuables to a stranger to have a look-see." Or, "We know gate G15 is a long way off and down a set of stairs, but YOU CAN MAKE IT!"

Or how about this. "We're sorry – seriously – to have to inform you that our on-time ratings are so pathetic, but we're working on it. Seriously."

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Book Tour, Part Deuce

After 1266 “southerly” driving miles and one errant night at home, on to “northerly” MN and WI I traveled, ultimately adding another 800 miles and three more appearances to the four-wheeled portion of my book tour log. While fall colors waved to me through my open car windows and gaping sun roof, one good tune after another escaped. This time the back roads treated me kindly. Ahhhhhh.

Then, home again for two nights and one local appearance. The next morning, away to O'Hare airport I yawned. However, within a few minutes of my arrival, I morphed into Stupid Traveler. It’s amazing how quickly one becomes rusty when road tripping rather than air slogging.

Yes, I remembered the 3 oz. rule and tucked all dangerous deodorant and lethal eye makeup remover into a quart bag. However, I forgot to take the quart bag out of my carry-on before passing through security. Thankfully, the TSA—currently nixing the trial shoe scanners because they don’t catch the stuff they’re supposed to--didn’t catch my entire quart bag filled with stuff. Do you think I should suggest to them that none of their machinery actually works?

But I digress. Onto my next Stupid Traveler Trick, which was to seat myself in seat 5B, build my nest (electronics in seat-back pocket in front of me etc.) and buckle myself in, only to have a kind gentleman point out to me that I was in his seat, which was 5A. I wasn’t even on the correct side of the aisle, which was one of those narrow aisles on all American Eagle flights. But wait, there’s more.

After a late-night book signing and visit with friends, I scrambled around my hotel room this morning, checked out, paid more than two bucks for a bottle of water to drink during my cab ride to the airport (during which I listened to my cabbie whine about people who used credit cards to pay for cab rides, which is what I did since it was thirty-two bucks), then tucked the balance of the bottle of water into my handbag and zipped it up. Seems Dayton’s scanning machines (or machine watchers) work better than O’Hare’s because a “BAG CHECK!” was required to rid me of the Dangerous Dasani which, had it stayed in my possession (and the TSA KNOWS this), I could have easily poured up someone’s nostrils in an attempt to drown them, thereby revealing myself to be one of dumbest terrorists ever since everyone knows things run OUT of noses, not UP them.

The height of my personal stupidity was, however, matched by the inefficiency of the flight attendant, who was so busy chatting with folks that he never once noticed that the man in front of me left his seat back reclined during the takeoff and the landing. I might have been more upset about this, and even ratted out the fellow traveler, had the guy kitty-corner and one aisle up from me (4A) not turned out to be such a fascinating person to study. Fifty minutes’ worth (the entire flight), I studied him. Here’s why:

*You know the lever you turn to let your tray table down? I’ve always wondered why it looks like a little hook, and what, pray tell, one might hang on such a teensy hook. Well, Fascinating Person enlightened me when he hung his suit jacket from it by the thingie sewn into the inside neck area of men’s jackets, apparently for such a purpose. Who knew?! (DID YOU? Seriously, did you know that hook could inspire such a clever tactic?)

*He efficiently worked his Blackberry with a combination of his right thumb and left index finger. Wow! Fascinating. That was a new technique on me, and I'm herewith naming it the Thumbinger. I could hardly wait until we landed so he could check out his phone calls and e-mails, thereby Thumbingering his way to the gate.

*He worked USA Today’s “Word Roundup” with lightening speed. He also tackled “QuickCross” and Sudoku, then ripped out the page to finish them later, tucking the folded paper into the interior pocket of his cleverly hung suit jacket. I studied the faintly balding back of his head for a long while wondering a) where it went to college, b) whether or not he’d have a go at the Crossword puzzle later too--and I suspected he would, and c) did he get all his answers correct? Hey, how would I know? I can't see that far--and I stink at puzzles.

Then we landed. THUMBINGER ROCKS! If I ever get me a Blackberry, I swear, I’m gonna try it. Then, since I had an aisle seat, as soon as the seatbelt sign unlit, I quickly stood up, stepped back and all but insisted the HUGELY TALL gentleman folded up next to me unfold himself before he got stuck that way. Turns out my Stupid Traveler Self had unknowingly struck again: American Eagle planes are so small, he couldn’t stand up straight in the aisle anyway.

BTW, if you flew in seat 4A on American Eagle from Dayton to Chicago today and a strange woman tapped you on the shoulder to thank you for educating her about The Hook, that was obviously me. Pretend I just made up all that stuff about studying you, okay?

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Keep Those Doggies Rollin'

During the first five days of my book tour (in the next installment of Traveling Laughs, I'll report on leg two---oh BOY!) I logged five book tour presentations (I usually talk for about an hour, then sign books); 1266 miles on both my car's odometer and my aching backside; four different hotels (the first night was a local event, after which I slept in my own bed); two rounds of cold leftover chili for breakfast (but I LIKE it!); three skipped meals; a teensy slice of the best pecan pie I've ever tasted (thank you, Mt. Zion Road Baptist Church in Centralia!); gallons of iced tea (eyes OPEN!); dozens of glorious moments; two gasping near-miss auto accidents; and countless other graces and irritations.

I also logged a Terribly Helpful Hint: do not, in an attempt to relax, take the back roads when you're in Farm Country, it's harvest season and the price of corn is high. (Can you say, TRUCKS FULL OF CORN BARRELING 110 MILES PER HOUR STRAIGHT AT YOU AND BEHIND YOU! (?)

At the end of my first 1266 miles, at 9 PM I pulled into my garage, turned off my travelmobile and uttered a prayer of thanksgiving that I'd made it home after driving five straight too-tired hours. But the simultaneous rub: Instantly—as in while I was sending up a Thank You--I realized that journeying home just to sleep in my own bed for a single night was a mistake.

Here's the thing about road warrioring: When you're out there, and, to your sublime satisfaction, you discover you're traveling with everything you need, that's the time to just keep going. No more double and quadruple checking to see if you remembered to stick your full itinerary back in the bag. No stopping to, once again, have to buy a teensy toothpaste (if you're flying), a sassy missing blush (if you're a woman), or phone the office for the info you left on your desk. No, miracle of miracles, you've got it ALL, so press on until you can stop.

I realize this "keep on keepin' on" strategy might not apply to those of you still raising munchkins since, well, sometimes you've just got to give them a hug or take in their latest theatrical adventure or sporting event. And I'm sure my "stay away from home" theory will ring dumb if you're inclined to homesickness. But as for this travelin' Grannie B, my kids are long gone and my retired husband does a great job holding down the fort and relaying messages, so trust me on this: we're BOTH better off when I can keep my stress levels at a minimum, so when I'm in the midst of a traveling roll, that is where I need to stay until it's over.


*Once you carry anything into your house, such as a suitcase, giant handbag or briefcase, you'll quickly pick it apart and therefore will no longer know if you still have everything you need.

*When you first leave your home, if you're like me, you're running late, so you'll also leave a wad of chaos behind. Dipping into that chaos for a night will feel depressing, which is what you don't want to feel since you still have so many more miles to go.

*Stockpiled phone messages and mail -- especially those luring travel accessory catalogs that promise to organize your every shirt and undershorts -- will distract you from the task at hand, which is SLEEP.

*Odds are that nearly all hotel beds are just as comfortable, if not more so, than your own bed, so why not just stay at that last place with all the fluffy pillows and cloud-soft comforters another night and spare yourself an extra dose of dragging your stuff on and off, in and out of cars and airplanes?

*If you're traveling on your own dime (and even if you're not), it's likely cheaper to stay an extra night, then go straight to your next stop, rather than to travel home and fly or drive out again.

*It's dumb to drive when you're too tired, and flying when you're worn out often incites the desire to smack the snot out of anyone who gets in your face.

In conclusion, this all sounds wonderful in theory. In reality, thinking you can actually get a good night's sleep in a hotel room (DING! BUZZ! SLAM!) is often delusional.

Therefore, in a new conclusion, I herewith suggest to you that the only way to survive extra long trips is to get Real Delusional with yourself and stay that way.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Club Sweat

“Any day now, George and I are going to take a marvelous trip. I'll be walking every step of the way; he will be rowing.”

Thus reads the opening line to an essay in one of my books that released back in 1995. (May its fertile bookstore shelf life rest in peace. Although if you’re truly curious, you can find them on the internet for pennies. Believe me, it’s a funny book!)

Since my husband’s currently undergoing physical therapy for his second knee replacement in the past six months (the other leg this time, thank goodness!), twice a day he heads down to our dungeon-y basement to climb aboard the stationary bicycle he borrowed from his brother for just this “therapy” purpose. You should have seen the dust on that thing! Why, it was almost as thick as the dust on my treadmill, which, as you can see, is also in our dungeon.

Every day I ask him, “Where are you going today, George?” (Every day I think, You should treadmill with him.) Every day he names a different place. Yesterday it was a town a little west of us; today he headed east toward the lake shore in Chicago. Oh, the places he goes!

Then it struck me: I used to make these same dumb jokes about our rowing machine (now in rowing machine heaven) and that very same treadmill, so I searched my old files. YUP! Exact same joke! But I laughed reading my own long-ago words so I decided to share them with you.

Travel with me back in time now as I pick up the rest of the aforementioned essay. But know that if you swapped “rowing machine” for “stationary bicycle,” you’d learn that aside from George’s current therapy activity, nothing much has changed—including the “silly putty” comment. (BTW, we still have the “jumpy thing.” I tried it recently and got a headache.) I’ve left the lines “as were,” but I’ve whittled the piece down to accommodate your traveling timelines.


Oh the places we'll go, oh the toning and strengthening we'll achieve, all in the basement during our bodies' workouts and our minds' rides to healthfulness. You see, we are the proud owners of a rowing machine AND a treadmill. Oh yes, we also have one of those jumpy things that looks like a round, miniature trampoline, so maybe we'll hop a few miles too. After all, healthy is good. Svelte is in. Exercise is not only popular, it's something we can do together.

But first we must peruse the possibilities. Master the maneuvers. Tame the technicalities. Back up the bravado. Delve into discipline. Stop the rhetoric and activate the garden slug that lurks in each of us. The options for success are staggering, and growing by the advertising minute.

Of course there are some options you can eliminate if you have children in college or are on a tight budget. The first is expensive health clubs. Not only are there annual fees, but those bright, perky, multi-layered spandex outfits cost bucks, not to mention the cool gym bags and appropriate shoes. And let's face it, no matter how trendy we try to be, we're ... not.

Just the other day my one-and-only-jeans-that-fit tore right at the bottom of my buttocks and inner thigh. You might be thinking that I'm right in style now. After all, teenagers and young adults are paying extra for jeans that come with fashionable rips. And the grunge look is in. Trendy folks do not, however, have cellulite oozing through their rips and settling like a wad of silly putty on the chair next to them.

Several years ago I won a free year's membership to a weight-training club. I donned my leotards and went - once. My "trainer" explained what I was to achieve on the first of several torture machines. Even with zero weight to counter-balance the strength move I was to perform on the first upper-body apparatus, I couldn't bring my arms together. With defeat and humility, I asked if my strong husband could take over my membership. "Non transferable." George sighed at the news; I don't believe it was the sound of disappointment. My membership thankfully expired.

After a recuperation period, we then decided the cheapest option, sans Official Walking Shoes, would be to start walking every evening and taking Wonderdog Butch with us. However, no sidewalks, no good weather and no cooperation from our disobedient, lunging and entangling mutt soon discouraged this budding idea. But our gymnastic minds kept flexing for new options.

Shortly thereafter my grandmother died and left me a small sum of money. "I know, George. I'll get us one of those rowing machines." And so I did. I rowed once and my sciatica screamed at me. George ceremoniously posted the printed routine that came with the machine and talked about his plan. Grandma's been gone four years now; that's about how long the rowing machine has had a broken roller.

With relentless pursuit, however, George and I scanned the video counters for just the right exercise program. Many caught his eye. Not because of promised benefits, but because of the "art work" on the boxes. Personally, I cannot understand why anyone would want to actually have Buns of Steel. Buns of steel? Can you imagine plopping down at your desk and hearing a sound reminiscent of The Gong Show? You'd probably shatter your teeth.

In the mean time, my stress level (partly induced by the guilt caused by all the exercise we're not getting) was calibrating at the high end of the scale. Since exercise is a known stress defuser, it was time to stop dinking around and just do it. Walking still seemed the least taxing on the body; treadmill talk began; shopping followed; the treadmill arrived. George said I could figure it all out and tell him how to use it. Seemed like a good idea to me.

Lesson number one: never use new exercise equipment when you're home alone, especially if it's electronic. I hurled myself off the conveyor belt on more than one occasion. After I told George about my adventures, he wanted to install a floor-height phone next to the treadmill so we could dial 9-1-1 from the splat position if necessary.

Yes, others can talk about their need to stop by the club, or their latest aerobic's classes. But as for me and my honey, we're gonna travel. By land and by sea, and by hook or by crook, we're gonna conquer this exercise thing together. And although we may not end up with Buns of Steel, we have high hopes that our rewards will as least produce Bellies of Laughter, Years of Health and a few stories for the archives.

Wow, if I were as good at treadmilling as I am at saving my old stories, I'd be SOOooo HEALTHY! But now that I've studied that dungeon picture again, I see a HORSE in the background. Hey, maybe I can just GALLOP the pounds away!
NOTE: I'm heading out on a book tour next week (9/25/07). If I'm in your area, please stop by and hear some of the stories behind the stories!

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Culinary Traveling Truisms

Since my last post about White Castle hamburgers and tornado warnings (no, I have not yet been arrested, but in case "they're" watching, WHITE CASTLE IS TRADE MARKED, SERVICE MARKED AND ALL OTHER MARKS), I've been tweedling what a weighty role (pun intended) food plays--on a number of levels--toward how I feel about travel. Let me begin to count the ways. Perhaps you should print this list of tried-and-true culinary traveling truisms and keep it in your carry-on, just in case you are . . . um . . . insane.

*Don't eat well, don't feel well.

*Don't eat, don't function.

*Eat too much, want to pummel person instructing you to wear your seatbelt "low and snug" across your stomach.

*Eat too high on the hog, hate the next month's credit card bill. Unless it's BBQ hog in Memphis. Then, EAT ON!

*Eat deep fried pickles when visiting the south, blow up like the MetLife blimp I saw sailing over our house just this morning.

*Dining while talking business? Order foods that don't dribble. Things you can cut into bite-sized pieces and carefully fork into your mouth. No sauces, especially if you've packed light. And especially do not put the whole cherry tomato in your mouth and chomp down. Or try to stab it. Or twirl the inch-thick cheese on that baked onion soup, unless you have a couple hours to spare.

*Using a straw? Don't forget about it or else you might bring the glass to your mouth while maintaining that all important eye contact, only to have the straw careen up your nostril. Right or left nostril, doesn't matter. They're both sensitive enough to draw tears. Don't ask me how I know this. And don't ask the acquisition editor stuck dining with me when this transpired--the first time we met.

*Need comfort food? Fried chicken with mashed potatoes and white gravy aren't on many room service menus. If you know of such a place, please post it and I'll wrangle a stop-over my next trip.

*Like to finger the crusty bits from the crusty bread that fall onto your plate? Be careful one of them isn't your wayward acrylic nail. The surprising tell-tale crunch is detectable throughout an entire restaurant.

*Like hot wings? Either don't eat them three days in a row, or be prepared to pay the "digestional" price. Especially don't engage in this wing-ding of a marathon wing-ding if you have connecting flights with no "down" time, as in "sit yourself down, and NOW!" time.

*Like short-cut, light-weight gadgets? Travel tooth "brushing" thingies (not a bristle in sight) complete with tooth paste (not) that slip onto your finger (designed to do this) do not remove celery seeds from between your teeth, or pepper, or steak shreds.

*No matter how many times you eat banquet chicken, it does not taste much like chicken. BUT, if you crave a SpongeBob SquarePants flavor, your wish will come true.

*Tired of formal dining on fancy food? If there's a local diner nearby where you can sit on a stool at the counter, sit there and eat there. Give yourself a spin! Conversation between the fry cooks, regulars and waiters is always entertaining, and usually interesting. It will help you fight off Conference Table Stupor. Plus, the "full" breakfast will cost ya no more than six bucks, a mere twenty bucks cheaper than the hotel restaurant--and their $26 does not include good ol' fried potatoes . Or coffee. Or anything other than "continental" fare. (Whose continent?!)

*Buffets can be scary, but not always.

*Want to inquire about tapioca pudding? You're old. But I don't care; I do it anyway!

*Need protein for breakfast but no time to round some up before heading out? PLAN AHEAD! Pick up a large Wendy's chili the night before and place it on the desk next to your laptop. Even if you don't have a fridge, twelve hours later, it will not kill you. I'm living proof, dozens of times over.

*Want to locate French cuisine? Don't ask me. (Bet you're not surprised.)

*Always wondered about Waffle House? Mm, mm, mm.

Wonder why I'm currently "cutting back?" Seriously? If so, it's official; you ARE insane. So print this list out and read it again. As soon as you no longer wonder why I'm blackmailing myself with a picture of the aforementioned MetLife blimp, consider yourself healed.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

A Surprise Around Every Corner

Legal Notice: White Castle, Slyders, Cravetime, Sackful (?) (and any other Official Fingerpoint "their" way) are registered trademarks, service marks and every other kind of mark you can think of.


In 1996, I had the pleasure of serving as a celebrity judge for White Castle Hamburger's Fifth Annual Cravetime Recipe Contest held at White Castle headquarters in Columbus Ohio. Although I've accomplished many things, this Really Impressed my sons, one who even received--and LIKED--a pair of glow-in-the-dark White Castle boxer shorts for Christmas. (I discovered they still sell them, but only in a size small.) In fact, my sons were so impressed that they joined me in Columbus for the extravaganza, traveling all the way from Minnesota and New Mexico. (Likely because they thought they might get free stuff, which they did not.) Among my lifetime traveling memories, this mom-and-sons journey is near the top. We laughed, we explored. They shot a few pics of Mom The WC Judge. A good time was had by all.

If you haven't guessed by now, I love White Castles (current personal fav the jalepeno burger), and so do they. Since my permanent residence is in the western suburbs of Chicago (and since I no longer have my gallbladder), I can grab a Sackful any time I want (which is perhaps why I have no gallbladder). When my sons come to visit, guaranteed we HAVE to make a Slyder run. But when I'm in Winona Minnesota, where I go hide to work on book projects, well, Dream on, Charlene.

But WAIT! As surprising as the devastating floods that ripped through the Winona area a few weeks ago, so, too, is what my grown son discovered today in a vending machine at his place of business in Winona. You guessed it: SLYDERS! "Which didn't taste too bad! Of course they were $1.75 for the two, but worth it!" he reported in a news bulletin e-mail. After rigorous investigation (okay, an after-work phone call), I learned the cheeseburgers came in a two-pack, sans pickles. A shot in the microwave, and OH, BABY!

This, of course, got me to cravin' them burgers, but since I'm currently "cutting back," I decided to toodle around the White Castle website and salivate while pretending to eat a couple bites, which, if you've ever consumed one, you already know is a whole burger. I was going to herewith insert a few of my fav hyperlinks to the totally fun stuff I discovered there, but the fine print FORBIDS HYPERLINKS without prior written conscent. However, I trust you can figure out how to find a few tidbits for yourself. (It also forbids me MENTIONING them without permission, but some things don't make any sense to me, and this is one of them.)

Moving along (and hopefully not to jail), as surprising as discovering Slyders in a vending machine in Winona MN, so, too, was the tornado warning that rang throughout the hospital two days after my husband's second knee replacement, which took place on the 21st of this month. If you're ever on the fifth floor of a hospital when a "code black" is announced over the PA system, seek shelter. Never mind the open gown, just do what they say, which in his case was to stay in bed while they rolled him around. Talk about a traveling laugh!

Those same storms wiped out our electricity the day before he was released, so we ended up having his CPM machine delivered to our temporary residence at the local Hampton Inn.

Gads. Even when I'm not on the road, I end up in a hotel, which was only two blocks from the place I've decided I better not mention again (I feel the WC Man sneaking up on me as I type), but it smells like steamed onions and their website currently states that their full nutritional information is "under construction."

Make of that what you will. Personally, I'm spending my days trying to deconstruct my thighs, made all the thigh-ier from those five-holed wonders. At least I thought when I went to Winona I could escape the lure of the little square burgers, but now . . . now I'm already saving my quarters. I mean, if I only have two teensy cheesburgers without those undoubtedly high caloried and sodium-laden pickles, what harm can come of that?

Okay, my hunger pangs have just declared a "code black." Time to go grab the bag of carrots.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Signs Along The Way

Whether I’m traveling between our permanent residence in Illinois and my book-writing hideaway in Minnesota, or business-tripping my way across the country (or out of it), it’s come to my attention that signs are often obvious, but sometimes not.

For instance, once right after checking into a hotel, I located the elevator and scurried to my room to use the “facilities.” (Okay, I often engage in this procedure, but this time I’m talking about this once.) As I flipped the seat cover up, I noticed a sign on the toilet lid. “No lifeguard on duty.”

What?! This WARNING caused me to shoot a double-take at the size of the toilet! GADS! Surely it’s not that big! And if it is, I’m just gonna have to dive in to do my business since I’m desperate!

After eyeballing the toilet and determining it was safe to plop down, I ultimately decided the toilet was also standard issue. So what was up with the location of that sign? While utilizing my standard procedure to unpack my bag (1. toss nightgown on bed 2. lay out cosmetics; 3. iron tomorrow’s outfit), my mind twiddled the possibilities. Although I figured I knew, one can't be too careful when on the road. Eventually I headed out to my business meeting and forgot all about the oddity. However, that evening, after I grabbed a bath towel off the rack , I was able to decode the encrypted-by-misplacement warning when I discovered another sign screwed to the wall - previously hidden by the towel - which politely instructed me not to take my room towels to the swimming pool.

Placement is everything, ey?

On several occasions I’ve noticed a scary sign or two at the check-in desk, the type that instruct, or “highly recommend ,” guests not leave the hotel lobby after dark without an escort, and/or announce that security cameras are in place 24/7. Believe you me, I don’t have to read those signs twice. When the check-in folks notice my bulging eyes and raised eyebrows, depending upon the number of stars in the hotel’s listing, I’m either instructed to “Walk in a group” or offered the company of a security guard. Obey, I do.

I remember well the first time in 1995 that I drove in England and hit the outskirts of a little town outside Manchester. Just about the time the two-way road shrunk from narrow to impossibly narrow, there posted along the roadside was a sign displaying our familiar circle with a line through it, the one that overlays, oh, say, a left-hand arrow so you know it means "NO LEFT TURN." However, this sign simply had the circle with the line through it. I yelled to the heavens, “Don’t what?! DON’T WHAT?!” Did it mean don’t enter? I hit the brakes and the car behind me nearly rammed me before zipping around me, horn blaring. Not until later that evening was I told that the sign meant "END OF SPEED ZONE," which gives motorists permission to - and oh, baby, do they! - hammer down. And remember, that’s just when the road narrows to what looks to be a half-car short of two cars wide. Oy. But if you check this link now, it says that sign means NO PARKING. I'm wondering if England's since changed the meaning of that sign (due to folks like me), or if the sign I saw (no color in the background, just white) has been discontinued (due to folks like ME), or if a local was just pulling my leg. Anybody out there know what the circle with the line through it (white background) meant back in 1995?

My favorite “two-fer” signs in a category I’ll call “Things Tourists Need to Know” was also located in England. Each sign was posted on the same wall inside a highly trafficked historic site. One arrow pointed left, the other right. To the left, "CASTLE." To the right, "TOILETS." Well now, that pretty much covered the bases. I found this worth a picture, which was the only shot I took during that tour. Go figure.

But here's what caused my most recent guffawing over signage, which I shall categorize as a cluster of signs. The first in the "grouping" was a six-inch, hand-made plaster sign purchased by me at a craft fair. I long ago hung it in my MN writing hideout on the wall behind the toilet. (I placed it where I’m guaranteed to see it - often.) “Lord, Help me through the changes in my life.” (That’s not the funny part.) Shortly thereafter, a hand-printed message on a Post-It note appeared on the wall right next to it. George, my retired engineer of a husband, had, in his unmistakably tidy all bold caps, printed, "MAKE SURE TOILET ISN’T RUNNING." (Signage note not funny, but the placement sure tickled my laugh-o-meter since it occurred to me that should God’s printing look like George’s, perhaps God cares about - and answers - more pleas concerning everyday and practical “changing” things than we might imagine! Talk about your "signs!")

My most recent visit, however, was the first time I noticed an addendum to the bottom of the Post-It note, which is what really set me to laughing. Since both of our grown sons and our landlord write in an untidy combo of print and cursive, it’s hard to tell whose stealth mind induced the smart-aleck question. “Why? Is that too fast for it?”

Now, I realize this is a great joke for five-year-olds, but still, the entire string of messages cracked me up. But I also just (as in just) noticed that the majority of my stories in this post are about bathroom humor. Hey, if only I’d included poop, this entire message would be guaranteed to hurl the youngsters into fits of howling. (I laughed just typing poop! HAHAHAHAHA - laughing AGAIN!)

Then again, if YOU laughed when you read the four-letter P word, let me know and I will heretofore make adjustments in my future posts, figuring that I’ve also heretopreviously misjudged my target market.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Planning a back-up plan

Thinking back, deciding to travel with only one credit card was a dumb plan. Okay, not a dumb plan, per se, but it was a plan without a backup plan--which is The Dumbest plan of all, especially for a business traveler whose ability to move about often depends on that card.

The dumb plan (since replaced) evolved after my fanny pack, containing my wallet with a fistful of credit cards inside, was lifted during a vacation. Thank goodness we were on our way home when this happened. We were, in fact, waiting in a long, jostling taxi line (BEWARE!) outside a Vegas hotel to catch a ride to the airport when the theft occurred. However, it sure slam-banged our reentry home since we spent days canceling cards from this store and that, hoping we hadn't forgotten any of them. But that first call from the airport to cancel The Main credit card was the worst since it took place under a time-traveling gun, and involved the police.

After much discussion, a new plan evolved: don't replace all the store cards; just use one card for everything and accrue air miles, or gasoline rebates, or whatever.

Fast forward a couple years and join me on the day this new plan failed.

I am in Atlanta attending a several-day conference, but today I have to fly a round-trip from here to Orlando. I'm presenting on a fiction panel at the American Library Association's annual convention. Also today, George is leaving from our home in Illinois to visit our son in Minnesota.

I take a cab from my Atlanta hotel to the airport. I pay with my credit card, exit the cab and walk about twenty paces toward the door when I get this niggling feeling. I stop, check my wallet and . . . no credit card! The driver didn't hand it back to me. Moreover, I left the cab before I made sure he did. Head-whap! I am responsible.

I run back to the curb, but alas, he is gone. I call the cab company (number still keyed into my cell phone) and report the incident, hoping they can send the driver back around the loop with my card. Call transfers. Gotta wait for lost and found. Disconnect. Call back. Yadda-yadda. Blah, blah, blah. Pleads. Clock ticking. My plane now departs in less than forty minutes; I cannot wait to see if it "shows up." I am struck with a hard reality: I have to cancel the card and head toward the plane.

While I'm talking to the credit card person, I try using a self check-in kiosk to obtain my boarding pass. No go. I have to chug to the counter line. Without my credit card, which, no matter what else I try (airline numbers etc.), the machine simply won't recognize me.


The check-in line is . . . not moving. Seems everyone has a problem today. By the time I get to the security line, I'm still talking to the credit card company while stripping myself of the necessities. I say into the receiver, "Hold on!" I sure don't want to lose her now. "I'm not hanging up! I'm setting my open phone down in a plastic bin. I'll catch you in a moment, I hope." God bless the small miracles, since she's still there, both of us having passed through the dreaded scan without incident.

I pull on my shoes while finishing the cancelation conversation, then we discuss how I can get a replacement card over-nighted to me. I don't have much cash with me; I still have several big-ticket dinners to attend; I'll need a working card to check out of my hotel day after tomorrow. I've run up quite a bill. These plans are put in place while I'm breathlessly scurrying to my gate. Thank goodness I'm only lugging my purse!

While I'm in the boarding line, I call my husband. He's on his way to Minnesota when he receives the news that he's now temporarily without a valid credit card. "Stop at the cash station," I tell him, followed by several rounds of "I am so sorry! I HATE when I do stuff like this!" He's heard it all before. I always mean it; he always forgives.

New Plan. We need to have two credit cards, one to keep for a backup so we don't ever get stranded like this again. But the logistics are problematic. If I carry them both in my wallet and my wallet disappears . . . . If I leave one at home, what good will that do? And what type of a backup card makes the most sense?

After much haranguing around, we decide to get a gasoline rebate card. We'll make it a Visa rather than another MasterCard. I'll carry one in my wallet and one in my carry-on. When I'm not traveling, I'll keep one in my wallet and one in my handbag. But what if my handbag gets ripped off or I leave it somewhere? The whole purse isn't as likely to disappear as a wallet (right?), but still, when I'm home, the possibility causes me to leave the backup gas card in my glove compartment so I for sure have it with me when I purchase gas. Eventually we decide this plan is perhaps the dumbest plan of all since I never remember to take it out of the glove compartment when I travel.

NEXT BUSINESS TRIP: I put the backup card in the outside zipper compartment of my carryon bag, then, due to overcrowding on the plane and a high boarding group number, I am forced to gate check that bag. I don't think about the card until 25,000 feet. (Feel my obsessing, racing heart.) And how's this for Murphy's Law in action? The announcement is made that gate checked bags will not be waiting for us as we deplane; they'll be at carousel number whatever. I can barely breathe until I get to my hotel and discover the card is still there. Another miracle.

I'm sure our backup plan is lacking something obvious here, but what is it? Can someone please help us out? If we keep thinking we need yet another backup card for our backup card, there will be no end to the torment. What do the rest of you do? It's unlikely I'll remember to strap on an undergarment holder every day of my life. Besides, they're hot.

A NOTE TO THOSE WHO HAVE ALSO LOST CREDIT CARDS (and cell phones, your driver's license …) ON THE ROAD: Perhaps we should travel in a pack, since in case of emergency, between us, we'll likely have everything we need.

PS Although I don't make any of this stuff up, I sure wish I did.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Nighti- (AWAKIE) Night

Interesting, trying to get a good night's sleep on the road when you're a Very Light Sleeper—and, I imagine, even if you're not. Travel schedules that don't work out the way you plan; insane agendas that do. The lure of the grab-and-go candy bar and a cola (CAFFEINE) when there's no other choice. The mental aftermath of meetings that leave your mind whirring like a meat grinder trying to create premium sausages out of carpet remnants. Alarms, which you didn't set, ringing at 4:30 a.m. next to your ear. Pillows and bedspreads that smell one day short of a nursing home. (I actually experienced this in a famous hotel. Double blaaaaach.)

For me, one of the worst violators of my snooze time is an air conditioner or heating system that clunks, or even just clicks, as it turns on and off, jarring me awake with each switch. Or how about doors that schloop-BANG? Or people who meet in the hall and TALK FULL BLAST RIGHT OUTSIDE YOUR DOOR?

Then of course we have the ongoing BING when your room is too near the elevator (can a hotelier out there please explain to me why this binging is necessary) and the heart jolting CL-CR-CL-CR-BLADL CRUNCH-BLADL CRUNCH, CLATTER-CLATTER-CLATTER of the 2 a.m. ice machine that's been jump started by a drunken sports fan or wedding reception attendee ready to continue partying with the rest of the folks who just rolled off the elevator to their block of rooms on your floor.

Another Real Baddy for me is when I'm tired, it's bed time and yet I can't go to my room because the business part isn't over yet . . . and then I catch a second wind. Why, you might wonder (or not) is this bad? Because my second wind is not a functional wind; it's about as productive at keeping me awake or helping me get to sleep as a gale blowing open the eyes on a corpse. When my head finally does hit the pillow, that's just how I look: eyes OPEN, yet dead.

As I ponder the plethora of sleep-producing travel accessories I've purchased in order to help me achieve a worthy eight--or at least five, or even three--hours of ongoing sleep, it's kinda mind boggling. And scary. Of course I've traveled with various types of eye covers (from silk, scented ones to used wet tea bags), ear plugs (I find swimmer's wax works best), lavender pillow sprays, sound machines (several brands and styles) and a humidifier. Yes, I honest-to-gosh bought a travel humidifier for one of my earlier book tours. It was heavy, cumbersome, hard to dry out before repacking and large enough that I had to check my bag if I also wanted to travel with essentials. (A quick Google search for "travel humidifiers" reveals they make them much smaller, lighter and smarter now, at least so they say. If you've found one you like, let me know.)

Shortly after arriving home from that tour, I came down with a horrendous case of bronchitis. I've always wondered if it had something to do with that spendy humidifier spewing wads of manufactured mist right at my face every night. But hey, if you wake yourself up enough times making that half strangling/half choking sound because your throat is as dry as a gravel pit, you're willing to try anything at least once, which relates to another reason I don't sleep: my own sounds wake me up. Any of them. Now that's bad.

Over time, I've resorted to:

*Flannel pajamas any time of year so I can turn the air conditioner as cold as it will go so it won't turn on and off;

*Locking my pillow around my noggin' with my arms as if I'm a professional wrestler who's turned on myself. Of course this was before pillows got too fluffy to fold in half. With the masses of monster shee-shee 600 thread count versions on today's hotel beds, I no longer try this for fear of suffocating myself;

*Sleeping with my head at the foot end of the bed (euuuwwww) so it's not so near the shared wall when the NOISY passionate express plays out next door, and

*Dialing the radio to "all static all the time," creating my own sound machine, or . . . .

I've tried them all. I've tried everything but sleep medications because I'm a speaker who often needs to wax PERKY very early in the morning, especially when I travel East and the breakfast meeting begins at 6 a.m. my time.

But lately I'm partaking in/using none of the above because I travel as light as possible (I never check a bag, no matter how wrinkled or dribbled I might end up looking), which means I need to keep things light and simple. My all-in-one secret nighttime weapon? A jar of Vicks® VapoRub® in my zip-top plastic bag. ("Cough Suppressant/Topical Analgesic." ) Just before turning out the light, I smear a dab of it under my nose (and sometimes on my sore, luggage toting back) and recall how comforting and soothing was my mother's tender, loving act of kindness when, as a child with a cold, she put me to bed by gently rubbing a good dose of the thick ointment into my chest. (Scientists say a sense of smell is a powerful memory invoker--but that it can also help us track like dogs. Well, not quite as well.) Then I thwack the pillows a few times, say my prayers and end them with AMEN AND GOOD NIGHT. It works about as well as anything, which is to say I've discovered that a comforting, sensory-laden routine is my best friend. It doesn't always produce the results I'd like, but it gets me as close, if not closer, than all other gizmos and theatrics I've tried throughout the years.

And yet . . . I still fan the pages of trendy travel catalogs in hopes of finding the One Small Thing that guarantees a good night's rest on the road. But even when I do spot those tempting dozing enhancers, I no longer fall for them. At least not yet.

So tell me, what are your best tricks for restful, peaceful, guaranteed shut-eye on the road? Or is this where together we simply say, "HA!"?

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Catch a BREEZY ride!

As you well know, life on the road offers an interesting array of opportunities and dilemmas, sometimes in the most unsuspecting places and ways. For instance, sometimes when we're thinking "And away we go!" we instead find a gate change downshifting us to "And away we go . . . to over there." Or worse yet, "Away we don't go--again," when we see the dreaded CANCELED gut punch flash before our eyes.

Other times, however, we enter an Unknown Transportation Zone and find we need to double-clutch just to keep up with the surprising swiftness and ease of the ride since due to our well seasoned seat-sitting traveling buns, we are prepared for the worst. Such was the case when, for the first time, I recently dared to approach the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) in Hotlanta Georgia.

Although I booked my airline reservations plenty early, I waited until the day before to figure my ride from the airport to the Hampton Inn near one of the dozens of Peach or Peachtree somethingorothers downtown. When I am travel weary--especially when I'm bone tired and bordering on YELLING--I book a private car since limo drivers often deliver a less herky-jerky ride than other alternatives, and my sanity and safety mean everything. But $77 one way when I'm on my own dollar? I'm feeling just a little cranky, not yet that desperate.

Next I move on to the share rides that make oh-so-many stops between the airport and wherever. While in the midst of that search I stumble upon a link for Ms. Marta. Hm. What's this?

A BUCK SEVENTY-FIVE? How good can THAT be? But it says it runs right out of the airport terminal, and the hotel tells me the peach-a-ma-hoosy station near them is just a block or two away. Well, I will have time to correct a mistake, so I think I'll give it a try. One thing I know for sure: it can't be less reliable than the airlines and it says it runs every 10-20 minutes, depending upon the time of day.

We'll see.
* * *

ALERT! ALERT! I am a woman traveling alone! Is it safe? What do I know about rails? And I've heard more than a few warnings about downtown Atlanta. Another call to the Hampton Inn helps assure me I'll have no problems. Plus, I'll be arriving with plenty of daylight to spare. Get over yourself, Charlene! Buck up and give it a whirl.

I have to admit that the MARTA website is slick, slick, slick. Maps, locators, instructions . . . . And who wouldn't want a "Breeze Card." Sounds almost as good as a beachy vacation, ey? "Over 590,000 MARTA Customers Have Caught the Breeze," it says on their opening page. "Fast & Easy." "Interactive." "Includes Bus and Rail." They even have a "New Rider Guide" and on the route map you can click on any station and it gives you all the information surrounding it, including PARKING availability or not!

I'm thinking they could have saved a lot of verbiage by saying, WE'VE GOT EVERYTHING! They even have a "See How to Use the Breeze Card" video, which I watch. Wowie. Just tap and go. By the time I leave for the airport, I feel fully armed to tackle Something New. And away I go!

Of course my plane is late departing O'Hare. Of course.

When I finally arrive at ATL, I follow the signs (with only one brief question to a passer-by) to MARTA and buy my round-tripper Breeze Card. Yup, just like that, I catch the breeze! Although I have a tad of trouble with the "just tap it" part, that's only because I'm trying to tap the green light rather than the tap pad. My dumb bad. But someone is there to help me out by pointing to the obvious. ("Poor thing," I hear her say in her head.)

I board the last car (the woman at the Hampton told me to) which is as clean as a whistle. Easy map on the wall so I can follow the stops. Nice. It's a smooth 19-minute ride, which beats all other modes of transportation by less than HALF!

[INTERJECTION: Do not file your Breeze Card too far away after you enter the gates; you'll need to tap it again to GET OUT of the gates at your arrival. Ask me how I learned this. No, don't.]

I ride the longest, steepest escalator (two of them, I think--or was it three?) I've ever been on, but I pop right out where I was told I'd be. A short walk, and Hampton Inn, here I am!

$1.75 and 19 minutes. Easy. Breezy. CLEAN. Smooth. Everything they said it would be, and more. I saved $75.25 by not taking that limo ride. Fabulous dinner or two, here I come!

Airlines, if I can catch that breeze all the way from ORD to ATL--or anywhere else I travel--I'll do it.

Readers, if you'd like to make any other comments about Atlanta's MARTA, jump right in. I admit I'm only a one-time rider thus far, but that ride was awfully dern good.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Pausing for the Cause

Back in January my husband and I were to leave on our first Real Vacation in many years. By Real Vacation I mean yours truly didn't plunk a book signing or speaking engagement into the middle of our schedule, nor was I going to spend my evenings clacking away on my laptop. (Okay, I had one teensy east coast book signing tacked onto the end of our trip, but that's when our Official Vacation would end and my work would reconvene.) We were going to fly and cruise and make merry. WAHOO!

Instead, within three weeks of our scheduled departure my husband blew out his knee (which his able orthopedic doc sawed away and replaced, and don't I make that sound easy?!) and I broke my leg. Bye-bye body parts and vacation. Life marched on (okay, came to a screeching halt then crutched and gimped) while we endured, convalesced, grumbled and healed. My addled brain left me running behind with a major book deadline, leaving Poor George a worse fate than that: he had to live with someone running behind with a major book deadline. Just call me Ms. Distracted and Crabby.

As a result, since the beginning of May I have been holed up writing like a bandit which is good for me but which makes me absent to George—which, come to think about it, might also be good for George. (Ms. Distracted and Crabby, remember?) I have an upcoming book convention to attend (fly, baby, fly—and back on the road we go), an out-of-state extended family gathering (drive, baby, drive) and more writing to do before George gets his other knee replaced on 8/21, which was the "bad knee" until the other one went suddenly badder. All this to ask, what vacation, and when?
But last week a fresh wind of insight blew through my working brain: the luxurious capturing of mini-vacation moments.

No matter where you roam or how jam-packed your schedule, you too can root them out with just a few minutes of dedication. Granted, I am temporarily residing in a dear old farm house up on the ridge of the beautiful bluffs in a Minnesota river town along the Mississippi. (Oh, poor baby!) From the living room I can witness, unobstructed, the sun both rise and set. Not much more than ten yards from my keyboard, a few times a day the neighboring farmer's cows saunter, march or high-kick their way up or down the hill, and the horses, tails flying and nostrils flared, race through the field just behind me. Hummingbirds, bluebirds, finches of all sizes and miscellaneous others (feathered others, that is) bathe in an old fry pan I set on the porch rail (also visible from my keyboard) lined with a bright blue Frisbee and a couple marbles to attract them. In the evening I can hear the frogs and coyotes, and on a clear night, the stars are close (Venus is captivating) and the big dipper empties its heavenly contents right onto the roof. Each moment I decide to lift my eyes and drink of these wonders is a mini vacation from my daily working grind.

You say that's nice for me but that your hotel room only offers a view of the hotel next door? As you can see (and if you can't because you receive this by some tricky means that doesn't enable photos click here) I'm gifting you with a few visual slices from my neck of the planet. Dive into them, allow yourself to "hear" the sounds, imagine your toes waggling through the grass, feel the restfulness. May these small country reminders whet your appetite enough to cause you to stand on the sidewalk and seek out wedges of blue sky (yes, the sky still exists beyond the top of those sky crappers, as my grandma used to misspell them), notice a bird's nest near an overhang or a determined flower growing through a crack in the cement. Or perhaps S-T-O-P for a moment and actually tune into the soothing sound of that architectural waterfall in the lobby rather than whisking by it. Let your eyes blur over as you imagine yourself in an exotic lush green place of respite.

If you cannot succeed at discovering even these simple natural nature-istic pleasures, be on the lookout for a breeze to soothe your fretting brow, the scent of real flowers in a window box to flare your nostrils—allow the bright welcoming smile of the doorman to imply "Welcome home for the night. I hope you sleep well." Or try luxuriating in these momentary sensory-loaded mini-vacation moments: the healthy sound of your gym shoes slapping against the treadmill in the exercise room; the smooth cool feel of the high-count cotton in your pillowcase; the bevy of mouth-watering culinary choices on the menu as opposed to the gob-wads of leftovers in your fridge at home.

Give thanks for the simple pleasures and see how they multiple when you look for them. Even on the road.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Recanting a recant

When I posted my last entry, never did I imagine that a few days later my neighbor, who lives three doors down and whom I've known for 38 years, would be one of "those" people, the "happy vacation travelers" holding up the security line.

Nothing personal, Dear Neighbor, but do you NEVER listen to the news? Or to me when I ramble on about my latest adventures in the airports?! (Obviously you don't read my Traveling Laughs. And here I fancy myself so fascinating!)

During a recent phone chat with my husband (I've been hiding in MN for six weeks writing under deadline), our entire conversation crackled with disbelief over the news that our neighbor--the one who hasn't flown since 9-1-1, the one with a carryon bag filled with giant-sized hair products--had called her husband absolutely incensed that the TSA dared take her expensive hair products away from her. She was furious and dumbfounded she had to remove her worn comfy shoes. "All those bare feet on the floor! GROSS!" Incredulous she had to endure wanding plus have the bottom of her feet inspected because she had a hole in the foot pad of said comfy shoes. She couldn't believe they thought she might harbor drugs or explosives in said heel-worn hole. "Come ON!" she barked at me in a follow-up phone conversation. And the air machine that blows our sensible thoughts away, well it FREAKED-HER-OUT!

When they took her stuff away she wondered—and then asked—if they were going to keep it for her so she could pick it up when she returned. Seriously. I'm still shaking my head. Can you even imagine how long that name-it-and-claim it security line would be?

Last week I wrote that I kind of envied the thus-far TSA-untainted and therefore unjaded. I said I wished I could once again become a virgin-to-the-rules traveler myself so I could head to the airport with that Happy Vacation Glow. But after hearing George's rendition of our neighbor's debacle as relayed through the translation of her husband (who didn't know the rules either, but who listened to the fury of his newbie traveling mate), then receiving the full flaming details in my follow-up phone conversation with said offended neighbor, I heretofore recant my wish. Her outrage, disillusionment and complete inability to understand WHY someone would want to take her toothpaste—her TOOTHPASTE, for goodness sake--almost reignited mine. She expressed VENGEANCE toward those who were responsible for 9-1-1. LOOK what they've done to us! she spat. It seemed as though the fallout was just now hitting her.

I waited until she stopped to draw a breath and said, "But it's our TSA that's made the decision to take away our regular size toothpaste."


Now that I've been reminded of that initial response to THE OUTLANDISHNESS of it all, yes, I rescind my wish to once again be ignorant of the reality of today's travel circumstances. That initial fall from traveling WAHOO is just too heartbreaking; I do not ever wish to experience it again. I proudly claim myself a member of The Well Informed & Seasoned Veteran's Traveling Club, a club that is compliant, unchallenging and appropriately numb. Like a wild mustang now broken to accept its rider, I stand in the stable (well, okay I currently hide in Minnesota) waiting for my next trip to the airport when my boss—Da TSA Man—will tell me whether to turn to the right or the left, what he or she can and will take away from me, like the right to say "I object to this treatment!"

Okay, THAT was all so depressing I now recant my recant while I consider this philosophical question: Is it better to have flown often and therefore learned to surrender your power, or to ne'er yet have flown and still ignorantly think you have some? Or is it better to simply work your Sudoku and fo-getaboutit?

Hey youse guys and gals out there, whatdayathink?

In closing, let me just say that I am glad my husband is driving up here today since he shall have total control over an on-time departure and what he arrives here with, which will include all kinds of sharp implements in his fishing tackle box, bottles of nail polish left behind by his beloved, a case of liquid refreshment and anything else he can cram into his big ol' LeSabre.

Unless . . . OH NO! Unless while I've been hiding this past six weeks here in MN and barely hearing any news (like my neighbor apparently hadn't done for the last many years) the TSA has slapped down some new regulations at the Illinois toll booths! And if learn they have, do I call my husband and alert him, thereby causing him to leave all our favorite things behind, therefore enabling Wally Walleye to escape the lure of our fabulous split Rapalas? Or do I just let my beloved be one of "those" people merrily setting out to reunite for a spell with his honey?

CHARLENE! SNAP OUT OF IT! Like THAT toll-screening, tackle-box nabbing scenario would ever happen!

Oh boy. Just like nobody will ever give a ding-dong about our toothpaste either, right?

Oh boy.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

How Quickly We Forget

Sometimes experience breeds impatience, especially when it comes to dealing with summer "fun" vacationers.

Yes, we road warriors know the ropes, even when said ropes occasionally slip off our Big Experienced Heads and settle around our vulnerable necks, such as when we forget our hotel room numbers (Where am I? Which time zone? What floor?), mindlessly leave our laptops at a checkpoint (THANK YOU, those of you who have done this too, since you make me feel not so alone) or settle our weary backsides in the wrong seat, even though we know better. But aside from those incidental and understandable slip-ups, we have our drills down pat and we stick to them.

Oh, we might grumble about the three ounce liquid limits, mandatory shoe removal and an occasional random wanding (peace be with you, oh ye always-wanded knee and hip replacement folks), but we "get" those rules and prepare ahead for them. True, perhaps we've lost (okay, handed over) a nail clipper attached to a pocket knife we forgot we used at home and stuck in our pockets, misplaced a boarding pass or donned earrings big enough to catch a lunker muskie which triggered the HIGH-ALERT BUZZER, but we usually make it to our seat-belt clicks without causing much disturbance.

After all, we are Professional Travelers. We aren't "those" people who arrive dragging kids and fifty-five pound suitcases, tuck cans of pop in our carry-on bags and don't understand that even gym shoes now need to be plopped in a plastic bin. We're not "those" people who only fly once every year or two and apparently haven't heard an ounce of news since 9-11. "Those" people who cause security back-ups and confusion, boarding processes slower than sludge spreads on a flat surface, and then twirl down the aisles thwacking people in the heads with their mongo backpacks.

No, we're not "those" people who are loud, on their way to Vegas, can't imagine why they're not seated together and therefore must YELL "FUNNY" (right) exchanges over the heads of the eleven rows between them while waiting for us all to laugh. Who don't take our evil-eye glares seriously. Who we'd like to. . . .

Okay, so these ongoing behaviors might get me a teensy testy this summer. But maybe that's because if I looked hard enough at myself I might discover a smidgen of jealousy that all this business travel has knocked the thrill of "fun vacation travel" out of me. I'd love to once again feel the excitement and happy anticipation of heading to the airport with sheer WAHOO! in my heart.

Maybe, if I examined myself closely, I'd be a little envious of the people who don't know all the rules because they didn't give so much of their lives away keeping up with them. Even though having their items confiscated and going through the screening process three times isn't fun to either experience or stand in line behind, there is something rather grand about realizing how jazzed they likely were when they stuffed their lucky charms in their pockets and their beverages in their backpacks. That when they donned their most comfy shoes, they didn't think about how funky they smell because it never occurred to them anyone else would have such a lengthy bin-shoving opportunity to find out.

Since I'm fessing up here, I shall also admit that I witnessed one of life's most beautiful moments between vacation travelers and the family member waiting to meet them. The greeter knelt down, swooped the little boy into her arms and exclaimed, "I'm so excited to see you that my heart is beating sooooo fast!" She took hold of the small child's pudgy hand and pressed it to her heart. "Feel that?"

Perhaps with a little patience and a lot of tolerance we can all--flight newbies and two-billion mile pros--learn from each other. Yes, if the security line is long enough, maybe the occasional traveler will watch enough of we seasoned vets to get the procedure down pat by the time they step up to the checkpoint. But what's in it for us? you ask. Hm.

Perhaps if we leave the heavy baggage of jadedness on the curb, take note of cheerful vacation energies, closely study joyful reunions and allow an old happy traveling memory or two of our own to resurface, we'll regain a bit o' the traveling magic ourselves. In fact, I hope we DO!

I also hope a thwacking backpack to the eye socket doesn't swiftly knock it right out of us.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Lessons From A Rental Car

Reading the ever-smart Joe Brancatelli's thoughts about the Hertz Prestige Collection reminded me of the time when one too many rental car bells and whistles just about tanked my psyche. If memory serves me correctly (and sometimes it does), Enterprise (with only good intentions and excellent service this go-around) delivered the blow.

To set the story perspective, let me first give you a little history. My husband, Big George, is in love with his Buick LeSabre. (I've written about this "affair" before.) It’s a good car, a reliable car with great gas mileage and pickup. It’s also, in my mind, a Geezermobile and I, of course, am not yet a Geezerette, even though I am a very perky grandmother. When, exactly, I will fall into the Big G category, perhaps only the waiting rental car knows -- or at least thinks it does.

At the check-in counter I am informed they are out of the category (full-size) I requested, but they’re just sure I’ll be delighted with my FREE DOUBLE UPGRADE. “It’s loaded,” the guy says. I grab my bags and head toward the pickup facility in the parking garage while uttering prayers of thanksgiving that I don’t have to haul all my stuff on and off an outback rental car transport bus.

The smarty pants car is pulled up and waiting for me, driver’s side door open. “You sure got a nice upgrade,” the young man says. “It’s your lucky day!” He puts my bags in the gigantic trunk, points out a couple features, to which I half listen since I’m running late, then closes my door. What a gentlemen. Truly. He was pleasant, courteous and enthusiastic about his job.

As I pull out of the parking garage, MapQuest instructions in hand, I discover it’s started to rain. After a couple errant attempts, I finally get the windshield wipers and headlights turned on. By the time I reach the expressway, it’s pouring -- I mean it's a deluge -- and the wipers are flying, but nonetheless I settle into a medium-fast clip, crank up the radio and relax a little since I have quite a few miles to go before locating my exit.

This calm pocket of time gives me a chance to notice the beginning of my slippery slide into old age: a Cadillac logo. Don’t get me wrong: this is a nice, big, kick-butt fully loaded sedan, but in my mind, there is only one car that shouts OLD faster than a LeSabre and that is a gigantic Cadillac.

One way or the other, life’s ever-rushing days will mark you. I sigh. My husband will love this story when I call him tonight.

It’s at this point I notice some kind of flashing light out my side window. It’s pouring so hard I can’t tell what it is, but it’s steady and it appears to be attached to the car. What in the world? When the rain lets up a little, I finally locate the correct button to open my window. What to my horrified eyes should appear but (hear psycho music) . . . a flashing red arrow of lights built into my side view mirror alerting me that my blinker is on.

I AM DRIVING A GIGANTIC CADILLAC, WITH MY BLINKER ON! Need I say more about these implications?!

(Yes, George loved the story, way more than I did.)

On the flip side of the trip, George, unbidden, picks me up at the airport in my sexy little SUV rather than his LeSabre. This is one of the benefits of nearly four decades of marriage: the Geezer knows when his Geezerette (although he’d never dare call her that) has reached her threshold of tolerance.

So, Dear Mr. Brancatelli, although you might enjoy, and rightfully so, those ultra-kitschy accessory-laden Jazzmobiles, some of us prefer vehicles just a little less . . . um . . . knowledgeable than ourselves.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Imagine these frequent flyer miles!

I couldn't help but post this tidbit of beauty, wonder and perspective. The whole story is fascinating! Here's the gem that ignited my traveling imagination.

"For all its similarities, Eta Carinae is markedly different from SN 2006gy in that it's much closer. Eta Carinae is only 7,500 light-years from Earth, or about 45 quadrillion miles away — which may sound like a long way in earthly terms, but isn't all that distant for a cosmic supernova."

When you are "only 45 quadrillion miles away," can you even IMAGINE the connecting delays?! Let us take a moment to give thanks for our "global" traveling days.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

The Bumpy Road Often Traveled

We live in the western suburbs of Illinois, but I often come here to this beautiful place at the top of a hill in Minnesota to write. It’s pretty much a 4.5- to 5 hour journey, no matter how you cut it, including one pit stop, which I blame on Kornflake, my big red dog, but it’s really me who has to go. We pop onto the expressway two miles from our house and don’t get off until we’re two miles from this one. Easy. Perfect.

Here we rent a small, Sear’s kit (read really old with green shag carpet—NO LIE!), two-story place because we love it, we can afford it (well, mostly), it’s near our granddaughters and the atmosphere oozes peace and inspiration. (I’m here by myself this trip, so not even Big George can interrupt me.) Time spent here is therefore valuable on a number of levels, not the least of which is that I currently have a book deadline (which is why George isn’t here) blowing its dragon breath down my throat and this hiding place keeps the rest of the world at bay while I keep my head down, fingers to the keyboard.

Until this morning.

Last night I went online to check my email, which I only do a couple times a day here in MN because the only access available to me in this unincorporated area is dialup. Seriously. (Did you even know it still existed?) Hear fingers clacking on keyboard, hear annoying, squealing phone sounds (please!), hear fingers stop typing, see eyes rolling, hear sighing . . . hear ME YELLING!

My ultra-reliable (going on three years), sexy little three-pound Sony VAIO laptop seized up, not a first when forced to use dialup these days, and not just with this computer. The culprit often has to do with Windows trying to download one of it’s planet-sized “updates” through a connection as big as a pea shooter. Make that a grain of rice shooter.

“Calm down, Charlene,” I actually say out loud. “It’s happened before and it will be fine tomorrow.” (Famous first words.) I powered off (unnaturally) and went to bed, which it was time to do anyway.

But this morning when I turned it on, all wasn’t well. My Little Sony that could, couldn’t. It pitched an unending hissy fit (I realize this isn't official I.T. language, but in my office, I am i.t. it) as complicated as a major-league chess move, which is why I don’t play chess. So I turned it off and booted back up and this time it pitched a whole different set of hissy fits, and so on and so on and Scooby dooby $^&#@ . HEAR ME WAIL!

Where do you turn when you’re on the road and your electronics -- your very lifeline to your business world -- wig out? (Seriously, please COMMENT to this post!) How do you know who to trust? “I’M UNDER DEADLINE,” I yell to the task bar that won’t load.


My last experience with this type of “adventure” was not a happy one. I was driving on a long road-trip between speaking engagements, my old giant (eight pounds) laptop in tow. I had exactly one evening to spend in town and a major need to communicate something to my publisher. Since the problem surfaced at my back-roads motel for the night -- DIALUP! -- I knew nobody in the area to give me a referral.

No help at the front desk. Yellow pages. Prayer. The $150 “fix” lasted two days; it cost me more money when I got home to fix the bad fix—which was never really fixed, which became my last-straw determiner to stop lugging an eight-pound laptop around. (Perhaps I should have THANKED the mess up!) No, I sure don’t want to go through that again this time, but due to deadline, I can’t afford to take my wordsmithing baby on a ten-hour, round-trip drive plus who knows how long in the shop.

Yellow Pages. Prayer. A phone call to a couple people I know who live in this area. $63.75. Fixed. Of course I haven’t even passed the six-hour "fixed" timeline yet, let alone the two-day one, but my new good friend Brent at Kennedy Business Systems gave me more confidence from the beginning than the last guy. And Brent told me to come back if I had any more troubles. The other guy just said, bye-bye when he handed me my power cord.

So, rather than working on my book, here I am writing about my nonlaughing traveling adventures when this is supposed to be a humor blog. Plus, I pray my book editor isn’t reading this. I recently read an article that said things posted on the internet last a lifetime and. . . .

[intermission while I write a quick email]

“Dear Mary,
Things at The Farm are going SWELL! I’m fast at work on the manuscript, which is practically writing itself. People here in Winona are kind and smart and stories are bountiful.

So, no worries. I look to be right on target to meet my deadline, which I of course take very seriously.

I hope things are going well with you, too. And FYI, it’s possible I might not read your reply for a few days. DEADLINE, ya know. Gotta keep my head down.”

Your dedicated author, Charlene
Prayer: free. Typing with crossed fingers: quite a trick. Having published six novels and honed the fine art of storytelling: PRICELESS!