Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Sidewerds Glances

During my recent earthquaking (literally) business road trip, I occasionally enjoyed the luxury of spending time traveling the back roads of Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky and Tennessee. Given my druthers, this is how I'd always get thyself from Point A to Point B: by winding my way up, down and sidewerds, as my Grandma used to say, on the grey roadmap lines between them. But alas, sometimes I'm just stuck with the airlines, and you can interpret that any way you like.

Will Allen III, another business traveling blogger, and one I always read, describes his occasional road trips in glorious detail—including traffic conditions. Sometimes we choose our cars over the airlines in a desperate attempt to assume and resume our sense of control over traveling matters, and sometimes it actually works. Other times, getting behind the wheel feels a draw at best, and an exhaust sucking nightmare at worst.

As for me and my auto traveling tales (and since I'm known as a "humorist"), I most enjoy discovering and sharing the uncommon, the absurd, the splendiferous and the Say WHAT?!s, even when at the time they seem nothing more than the terrible. Ain't it funny how hindsight can birth the amusing, when in Real Time, reality, and especially airline reality (is that an oxymoron?), is often nothing more than a headache.

But since I'm currently sitting here in Hindsight Mode, I'd like to share a few of the highlights you miss when you choose the commuter airlines over a sidewerds trip in your own comfy vehicle in which you can choose your own music, pack as many bags as you like with however many over-sized liquid containers as suits you (Bring it ON, you 3.5-oz bottles!), pull into any restaurant or drive-in that grabs your taste buds (LOVE Sonics!—and did you know that "participating" Sonics have a "happy hour" every day from 2 – 4?), and remember that the miniscule details of the Real Earth in Real Time are actually more lush and fascinating than any Google Map view, or the view from 27,000 feet.

So, in no particular order, I present to you a few highlights from my Chicago-to-Nashville-and-back-again journey. Yes, the business (you'll find me listed as a bonified AUTHOR) got done, but so did some mental refreshing away from my typical keyboarding grind.


*A Coney Dog from Sonic, although we've already covered that.

*Wild flowers and a few wild-and-woolly (one on the floor, face down, getting handcuffed--no KIDDING!) in Nashville.

*The opportunity to "Sleep In A WIGWAM," (they're cement) which we did not because we had to move on, but maybe one day. This is nothing new folks; this establishment had already been there for 60 years in 1997, it says so on their website! We would never had known this place existed if we hadn't accidentally discovered it alongside one of our "Let's try THIS road" choices, even though in looking up the info I discovered that NPR talked about them in 2001. You can listen to the audio! (That last click is SO WORTH IT, just for the READ!) If I wasn't currently stuck on a dial-up network (yes, they still exist), I could listen, too!
*TWO breakfasts at Waffle House, one in IN and another in KY. I've never been to a Waffle House where I wasn't greeted with a hearty HELLO! We don't have Waffle Houses in my home area, so I'm always excited to get the opportunity to order a "Regular hash brown, all the way," which means it comes smothered (onions), covered (American cheese), chunked (hickory smoked ham), diced (tomatoes), capped (mushrooms), and topped with Bert's Chili. If you think Bert's Chili isn't special, did you know there is an official Ode to Bert's Chili? I also get jalapeños in the "all the way" mix, too, but I can't remember the "call" for them. I just know they're included. Mm, mm, mm. The only thing that could be better as a hearty breakfast is the "double" or "triple" order of same, but that's more than I can handle, which I learned the hard way several years back.

In case you think Waffle House doesn't consider your health, please know they stock sugar free syrup. Neener-neener.

*A marvelous starry sign . You can see the lit version here--although I'm still wondering if it flashes. The motel's exterior was neat and tidy and their lot was filled with cars. We didn't get to stay here either, but like the Wigwams, maybe one day.

*A farm house with a giant sleeping dog on the front porch, and a wide-awake goat standing next to him or her. I'm still sorry I didn't stop and take a picture!

I'll leave you here with a word picture of one of the best reasons to occasionally take your business traveling backside to the back roads. People out in their yards in rural areas, and those traveling toward you on the county roads, almost ALWAYS wave or nod at you, and smile. You feel welcomed, honored, seen—really seen—and glad to be waving and smiling back. Whether traveling frontwerds, backwerds or sidewerds, now there's a travelin' grace worth gittin'. As Arthur Landers, a character in my Welcome to Partonville series would say, "Ya perty much don't in-counter that kinda be-havior in the airports no more. And that's a serious cryin' shame."

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Didn’t see THAT coming!

So, I went to Yahoo to search for verifiable info about the earthquake I experienced at 4:37 a.m. last Friday morning. (Stay tuned for details about my ridiculous location at the time of the shakeup.) Yahoo led me here, to a site which appears to be that of an Official Government Agency. (For those of you unwilling to blindly click anywhere near a government agency, it’s .) However, since many Official Government Agencies seem to function far better in “appearances” than “realities,” my radar was up.

But info I found! I discovered numerous links to last Friday’s southern Illinois event, including Details, Summaries, Maps, and Scientific and Technical data. The site even offers colorful swirly maps, which, oddly enough, I was talking about in my last blog post. It touts zip-codey maps, Seismogram Displays and a section called—and, like Dave Barry would say, I am not making this up--“Earthquakes for Kids.” (Is it just me, or does that sound alarming? Might not “Earthquake Information for Kids” seem less ominous?)

The endless pages even tout “Animations” which, once activated, remind me of the old Pac-Man game. (Scary implications, ey?) You can find links to just about any piece of information you might want (or not), regarding not only last week’s southern Illinois earthquake, but just about every earthquake happening NOW or throughout time, including listings of individual earthquakes that claimed hundreds of thousands of lives. Quite the "Top Ten." Make sure you run your mouse over every graphic, since most of them allow you to go even deeper (again, creepy) into the stats at any point on the graphic.

Wanna really freak yourself out? [WARNING: If you DO the following, the page takes so long to load, you'll think your computer seized up!] Go to this global page of “recent earthquakes within the last 8 to 30 days,” then spend time wondering how any of us have a filling left in our heads! Surely we should be jolted to pieces by now. And if you still haven’t had enough, head straight to “Today’s Earthquake Fact.” (Did you know there is “no such thing as ‘earthquake weather’?” Take THAT!)

If you live in, or often travel to, the west coast of California, you won’t want to watch the Animations maps for very long. If you reside in Minnesota and follow the links to the history of, say, Iowa earthquakes, you’ll learn that “Iowa has experienced only minor earthquake activity since the United States obtained control of the State under the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. It was not until 1857, 11 years after Statehood, that the present boundaries were drawn up. As a territory, Iowa had included Minnesota and parts of North and South Dakota.” Imagine, Minnesotans! Your state bird could have been the Eastern Goldfinch rather than the Common Loon, which is maybe why they let you go.

But I digress, and I can hear your burning question: So, Charlene, exactly where were you during the earthquake?

SHORT ANSWER: Business trip. Bowling Green KY. Holiday Inn. Fifth Floor. Room 523. On the toilet.

It is unclear to me if the earthquake awakened me and then I had to pee, or if I had to pee, so I woke up, stumbled to the bathroom, plopped down and then the earthquake hit. (Oh, MY! I hope the impact of my ample posterior didn’t cause it!) All I know is that I was sitting there basking in the familiar glow emitted by the night light built into the hair dryer (who thinks these things UP?) when I noticed that the toilet seat was vibrating.

As a business traveler who has never encountered an earthquake, my first response was not that of EARTHQUAKE! My initial thought was that perhaps the guests in the room next to mine had a Jacuzzi tub and an early morning breakfast meeting. Then I noticed that the entire bathroom felt like it was vibrating, or shaking, or . . . . I wondered if my room might be either above or below the laundry room. Perhaps someone had turned on all the industrial dryers. (I know this is reaching for explanations, but . . . ) As the shaking reached a crescendo, I thought, “Hm. I wonder if this is what an earthquake feels like?”

And then it stopped. I flushed and went back to bed, convinced I’d dreamed the whole experience. No more BBQ before bedtime, Charlene!

The next day, after I learned about the honest-to-gosh quake, a few simultaneous emotions and thoughts intersected. 1) HOW EXCITING! 2) What a great Traveling Laugh blog post! 3) A journalist’s regret: Why hadn’t I stood up and checked the water in the toilet. Just to see. I mean, when a quake shakes a building, does it cause waves? Ripples? Would they have appeared the same on the second floor as the fifth? 4) If I’d been brushing my teeth, would it have felt like an electric tooth brush? 5) GRATEFULNESS! I lived through an earthquake!

That last thought slam-dunked me into the profound. Every time I return home safely from a long or short business trip is a great time to give thanks. Oh, how easy it is to whine and complain; but compared to the horrific surprise disasters that befall so many around the world, how benign it is to have to sit in an airport for a few hours—or on a quivering toilet for a minute or so. For each safe mile we travel, each new breath of life we can breathe, a dose of perspective and a grateful heart can sure help breed its own reward.

Too bad it took an earthquake to shake some sense into me.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Whether Or NOT to Weather

IMAGES: Posted on the Bowling Green KY
Fountain Square Park site

There’s always something about the weather. Sometimes we can’t wait to get out of it, and sometimes we’re fretting we’ll have to fly or drive into and through it. Then again, maybe we’re hoping we can fly through it, or up and over it, or at least around it, since the option means our flight will surely be canceled. Argh.

We bookmark or set up options on our home pages to keep us up-to-the-minute-and-radarly informed. We watch the moving bands of swirling greens and yellows, blues and reds, highs and lows. Not even an old hippy-dippy lava lamp can compare to this action! The graphics speed and dip, swirl and pause. We groan. We hope. We tune in again at 5, then catch the late-night weather report before setting the alarm.

Airlines love to blame things on the weather. Sometimes the twirling and diving masses look to be headed out of our area before flight time. Hip-hip-HUR…WAIT a minute! Somewhere along the line, the storm actually ends up dinging us anyway since it hurdles itself toward the location where our scheduled flight originates, which makes it late, which makes us late. DANG! Who KNEW?!

When I tuck myself into a hotel room, the last thing I look for is the weather channel. The weather will do what it will do, no matter how much I think about it. Just let me rest in peace, okay? Only God knows, and to be honest, sometimes I think God is completely fooled, same as the weather guy, or gal—all whom my husband knows by name. He’s a weather channel addict. Let’s discuss.

One day George and a friend were downstairs speculating as to whether or not someone had had their baby yet. Overhearing their conversation, I sat in my home office mentally scanning our list of friends, their kids, their grandkids. I couldn’t imagine who the guys were talking about, so I went downstairs and asked. In unison, they named a name, one completely unfamiliar to me. Someone on the weather channel. I should have known.

Watching, waiting, speculating. Comes in all FORMS on the weather channel ey?

Today I’m packing for a road trip to a two-day speaking/appearance engagement in Bowling Green Kentucky. (For you book fanatics, check out the Southern Kentucky Book Fest. Even Mitch Albom is gonna be there!) We’re leaving a day early to spend a night with my cousin in Jamestown Indiana. I’ve double checked the KY hotel reservation, then our Sunday night Nashville stay, since HEY! We’re only going to be 65 miles from there, so let’s go enjoy the Country Music Hall of Fame before heading back. They've moved into fancy new digs since we last passed through.

But I have to admit, I’ve also checked for each destination. Looking through my office window, if we get out of here soon, we’ll be traveling in sunny skies. But if I can believe (and did you know you can check upcoming weather for a MONTH? BWAAAA-ha-ha-ha!), by tomorrow when we leave Indiana, we’ll be traveling with dark clouds. In Bowling Green, we’ll be slogging through thunder showers, and in Nashville, more dark clouds. Overall, we’ll experience highs in the 70s and lows in the 40s. This all either will or will not happen. This makes me alternately happy and sad we’re not flying.

Man, like I said, there’s always something about the weather.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Waiting Game

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.
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On second thought, this past week it was--and continues to be--the singularly Worst of times if you and/or your captain and crew members depend upon MD-80s for any flight and/or connecting flight that might--as in might--end up taking you to wherever you need to go, and within a reasonable amount of time, which is hopefully before your meeting is over or you age out of life as we know it on planet earth.

If you're an American Airlines devotee, please know I'm praying for you as I type. If you fly any other airline, odds are your Worst of Times is coming, might already be here, or will come again, so I'll go ahead and pray for you, too. I'm sure every carrier is deluged with the onslaught of AA spillover, so may we all try to maintain peace, if not pleasantries, which are, of course, better than punches, upon which the TSA would surely frown.

In case you are stuck in an airport (or hotel room, or inside a plane, or sitting on the toilet), I thought I'd give you a little something to do to help you smile, or at least groan. (Hey, we take what we can get, right?) Please consider this multiple choice quiz my gift to You Who Wait. Although there is one legitimate answer for each question (I'd give it to you, but Googling for the answers will kill a bit more of your time), you'll note that some alternatives definitely qualify.

- - - - - -- - - - - -

1. "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times ..." This quote is by:
a. Shakespheare
b. Charles Dickens
c. the CEO of Southwest Airlines
d. the CEO of American Airlines
e. the Chicago Cubs

2. "What is written without effort is in general read without pleasure."
a. Samuel Johnson, 1700s
b. Presidential speech writer
c. American Airlines, recent round of missing excuses

3. "When you drink the water, remember the spring."
a. flight attendant unable to serve beverages due to turbulence (accent on the word WHEN)
b. Chinese proverb
c. vacationer in Mexico

4. "You must continue to gain expertise, but avoid thinking like an expert."
a. Dilbert
b. FAA
c. Charlie Brown
d. Denis Waitley
e. all of the above

5. "It is pleasant to have been to a place the way a river went."
a. Henry David Thoreau
b. Ralph Waldo Emerson
c. Hermelda the cow
d. American Airlines

6. "Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former."
b. Albert Einstein
c. The designer of the electrical components of the MD-80

7. "Life is divided into the horrible and the miserable."
a. Woody Allen

If you're STILL in the airport, you deserve a break, so pick him and be done.
- - - - - - - -

Will Rogers said, "We are all here for a spell; get all the good laughs you can." To this I say, AMEN!