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!

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

When Nature Calls (or SCREAMS!)

When one attends a conference held in the hotel in which one is staying, one rides the elevator often. It’s a wonderful thing to be able to use one's own bathroom rather than standing in line during crunch times, or wishing you had more “personal” space rather than watching the feet in the stalls next to you (wishing you weren’t), or finding out (too late) that the person who “went” before you used the last square of toilet paper, or . . . . You know what I mean.

One of the reasons I often request no housekeeping is because sweet nature often calls (sometimes using her EMERGENCY! voice) when housekeeping is cleaning my room. It’s just the way the universe seems to work. So throughout my conference, I applied my NO HOUSEKEEPING rule. (Ah, so CLEVER! But can't you just feel the windup?)

Following one of nature's yellow-alert calls, I waited for the session break (remember, this was yellow in terms of urgency, not orange or RED) before making my way to the elevator. I caught a break since the door opened immediately after I pushed the button. I entered the elevator alone, pushed "32" and enjoyed a private, meditative nonstop ride to my floor. The doors opened, I exited, zigged and zagged my way back to my requested "quiet room, away from the elevator and ice machine," (nature's voice getting louder), pulled the DO NOT DISTURB sign out of the door (to remind housekeeping I want no housekeeping) and clamped it between my teeth, inserted my plastic key in the slot, gave it the professional seasoned traveler's swipe and ... red light. Figuring I had my key facing the wrong direction (I left my glasses on my chair in the meeting room) I turned the key the other direction, gave it a re-swipe and ... red light. With Zoro's lightening speed, I continued swiping that key every which way and ... red light, red light, red light.

DANG the hotel! What an inopportune time to have to reactivate my key! WHY can't hotels get their records straight?! HOW many times do I go through stuff like this!

I took the DO NOT DISTURB sign out of my mouth, stuck it back in the door lock and . . . noticed that although I'd arrived at the quiet room in the corner with the DO NOT DISTURB sign, I was on the wrong floor. This was room 2631, not 3231. Seems my elevator had stopped on 26 for no reason (nobody got on) other than to humiliate me. And you know how it is in those big hotels: all hallways look exactly the same. In this case, it was the Grand Hyatt in NYC and each elevator waiting area had the exact same table, phone and what looked to be a teensy piece of suburban lawn growing in a little square pot. How's a person (okay, obviously an inattentive, distracted, STUPID person) supposed to realize the error of her ways?

With nature's call now escalated to an orange alert -- not to mention a possible impending face punch looming on the other side of the door at which I'd been pawing for a couple minutes -- I quickly scurried around the corner, back to the elevator (to which I paid CLOSE attention) and made my way to my room, which, thankfully, was my room.

Although the session had already reconvened by the time I finally made it back to the conference level, at least everything turned out okay, if you know what I mean. (Thank goodness I heeded the yellow alert before it turned to RED alert before heading to my room!)

To the people at the Grand Hyatt NYC, even though you didn't know I was thinking poorly of you, I apologize anyway. To myself I say, PAY ATTENTION! To you, my fellow travelers, I beg you to herewith share your own embarrassing stories since you'd make me feel ever so much better--and braver—about continuing to share mine.

PS If that was YOU in 2631, SORRY!