THIS AND THAT – TRAVEL IN TRYING TIMES

We are going to a wedding this weekend. And staying in a nice hotel in Boston overnight so we can enjoy the wedding without worrying about the long, dark drive home. A few days ago, I got a bunch of emails from the hotel’s parent chain. I assumed that amidst all this communication there would be a reservation confirmation. I already gave them a credit card, so there was no reason for problems.

aloft hotel aerialshot

Except it wasn’t. When I opened the email, it was not a confirmation. Instead, I’d been sent a login screen for their “club.” You know how it works, right? Your airline, your hotel, your rental car are all part of large corporation. They hope your single night reservation will evolve into a steady customer relationship. Not likely, in our case, but I understand that it’s their job to generate business.

The problem was that this login screen required a username and password. I had neither. The email also lacked the hotel’s address, phone number, directions, and information about parking. All of that information must have been accessible inside the application which I couldn’t access. All they gave me was a corporate phone number. No address. No reservation number. No confirmation number. Oy.

aloft lobby

I called the corporate office. They couldn’t help me. Couldn’t transfer my call to the hotel, but they gave me the hotel’s phone number. So I called. After being put on hold for a ten or so long minutes, a man got on the phone. I explained the problem and he said, “Sorry, I’ll send you a confirmation now.”

Which turned out to be 5 or 6 web pages. In full color with animated advertisements.

My printer has never in its life refused a direct order, but in the face of this massive overload of data, it totally would not load. It tried. Gamely kept trying. Locked up my computer and absolutely would not print.

I called back. “Can’t you just send me a plain text confirmation? And please, this time, include the address, phone number, and any other information I should have at check in?”

So he sent me another email. Without an address. Or email. Or telephone number.

I called again. “Uh … an address … and the check-in, check-out times … and your phone number … would be really helpful.” I paused, pondered. “What’s the parking situation and are you walking distance from the Sheraton?”

Turns out parking costs $40 and is several blocks away. In a lot not adjacent to the hotel. The Sheraton is on the other side of Boston, so we’ll definitely need a taxi. I was getting a headache. Why was this so complicated?

“I’m disabled,” I said. I really hate having to explain, but if we have to haul our stuff blocks from car to hotel, there’s no point in staying overnight. Good bye convenience, hello expensive inconvenience.

“Oh,” he said. “Well, we have disabled parking at the hotel. You could park there. There would be a lot less walking.”

“Can you promise me there will be a space in the disabled parking area?” I’ve had problems with this before, where they have maybe two disabled spots and they’re taken … leaving me totally screwed.

“Oh,” he assured me. “There’ll be space.” And I’m wondering how come he’s sure because I’m anything but.

aloft guest room

Eventually, I copied and pasted the plain text email into a document, manually typed the address and phone number. Then printed it.

Supposedly, they’ll save a handicapped space for us. Orange cone in the space. I’m counting on it. All of this adds up to why the joy has fled from traveling. A night in a good hotel should be fun. Easy. Why make it so complicated?

I’m old enough to remember when travel was something to which we looked forward with happy anticipation. I called a hotel, made a reservation, then off we went. Yes, those were the good old days.

A final note of transcendental techno-weirdness: While I was writing this, I Googled the hotel. My reservation came up online with a note that only I could see it. Why didn’t I think of that? How did it get into the Google cloud when I couldn’t get it into my own computer?

CRAFT SHOWS AND FARMER’S MARKETS IN LA – ELLIN CURLEY

I went to two Craft Shows and a Farmer’s Market when I recently visited my daughter in LA. I go to these events at home in Connecticut as well so I can see some regional differences in style and substance. The first thing that struck me is that unlike Connecticut, the LA Craft Show sold lots of plants.

craft show plants

The most interesting plant related item I saw was something called  LA Urban Farms. They are large, tiered, plastic structures designed to hold shoots of plants and keep them efficiently watered. These shoots will grow into full-fledged fruits, vegetables, flowers or herbs, whatever you choose to plant.

Urban Farm

These gardens not only conserve space and water but they are easier to care for. For those of us in the East, you don’t have to deal with the rocky, poor quality soil in your backyard. Check out LA Urban Farms at http://laurbanfarms.com/.

I noticed at the craft shows that LA is obsessed with their dogs. There were lots of booths devoted solely to dog products, like collars and leashes, dog biscuits and themed chatchkis. What shocked me were the number of booths devoted to dog clothes! They sold hats, shirts and dresses that looked like they were meant for children. At one craft show, I saw someone pushing a specially designed dog stroller for small dogs!

craft show dog photos

craft show dog with hat

I also discovered the world of vegan chocolate. It is delicious! There were several booths devoted to vegan products but this one blew me away. Apparently regular chocolate contains all kinds of chemicals and even wax that act as stabilizers and preservatives. Vegan chocolate is chemical free and only contains pure, basic ingredients. The taste was rich and intense and the texture was smoother and creamier than any chocolate I have ever tasted. I plan to order Vegan chocolates to serve to my friends at home.

vegan chocolates

I went to a Los Angeles Farmer’s Market as well. I was struck by the tables filled with different loose teas and mixed spices. I haven’t seen that much variety and volume on the east coast. The only place I’ve seen that before is on my trips to markets in France.

farm mkt spices

farm mkt teas

The citrus fruits were also stars at the LA market, as expected. The displays were beautiful and bountiful

As were the tables that were overflowing with fresh vegetables like beets and carrots. I particularly loved the table covered with at least 6 baskets of funky mushrooms in all shapes and sizes.

farm mkt mushrooms 2

farm mkt mushrooms

I was intrigued by the variety of food products as well as life styles that were on display at the LA markets and shows. That is one of my favorite things about traveling – getting a glimpse into how other people’s everyday lives differ from mine in my home state.

craft show LA art

PROCASTINATION – IT’S EARLIER WHEN YOU THINK

Procrastination? It’s not procrastination. Uh uh. It’s enjoying the freedom of unharnessed time. For long time-faceyears, I too was scheduled. Always short of time, but never late. Never missed a deadline. Always left the house early in case I encountered traffic. I used up my time making sure to have enough time.

But time is all in our heads. There’s always time and there’s always no time at all. I put off what isn’t critical, do what must be done now, and the rest? I’ll have another cup of coffee and a Danish, please.

I call and change appointments when I don’t feel like going. If traffic piles up? I’m late. I say “Oops, sorry. Hit some traffic.” The world keeps spinning. No one takes out a pistol and shoots me. Yet.

In the immortal words of Robert Heinlein’s Time Travel Corps from All You Zombies —

Never Do Yesterday What Should Be Done Tomorrow

If At Last You Do Succeed, Never Try Again

A Stitch in Time Saves Nine Billion

A Paradox May be Paradoctored

It is Earlier When You Think

Ancestors Are Just People

Even Jove Nods.

Priorities are important. I’ll get my leaky valve fixed. In time. I’ll get that book review written. Tomorrow. I’ll process some more of the pictures we took yesterday … later. After coffee. After I read, write and think a while.

There will be time. For the important stuff. Maybe there won’t be time for other things and, well … they just won’t get done. Because my hurrying days are done.

AMERICA FROM THE SLOW LANE

DISCOVER CHALLENGE: OBSTACLES 

Surviving slow drivers on life’s long highway


I’ve read many stories in which authors wax poetic about the good old days when travel happened at a more gentle pace. Long journeys by narrow roads through quaint towns past farms, field, and woods. No super highways with steel and chrome food courts to mar the beauty of the countryside.

This is going forth to experience Real America.

I can remember some of those good old days. I’m just old enough to have been one of those kids in the back seat. Pinching and punching our siblings while simultaneously whining: “Are we there yet?”

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All of you who ever waxed poetic about those long ago days of back roads travel should make the trek from Jackman, Maine to Danville, Vermont.

The beauty of your journey will not be marred by wide, smooth, high-speed roads. Nor will you be assaulted by fast food or faster drivers. Your pace car is more likely to be an aging pickup truck, rattling its way down the mountain, one of the driver’s feet permanently glued to the brake pedal while the truck rattles back and forth across the single lane.

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It’s 231 miles from Jackman to Danville if you stay on the U.S. side of the border. Only one route is available. Route 201 from Jackman to Skowhegan. Hook a right on route 2. Drive for a really long time and do not plan on ever exceeding thirty miles per hour.

You won’t starve. You’ll find good food to eat, gasoline to be pumped as you pass through dozens of quaint little towns. There will be a pizza place in each village. Baked goods for sale. Sandwiches, too and chilled pop in bottles and cans. Clean bathrooms.

Autumn road to home

It’s a breathtaking journey through the mountains, especially in autumn when the trees are lit from within. The glory of Fall in the mountains of New England cannot be overstated. The mountains are alight with glory. It looks surreal.

And directly in front of you will be a slow, poky driver who will never exceed the speed limit. He will never reach the speed limit. In fact, he would never consider letting his vehicle get within 10 miles per hour of whatever the sign along the highway says is the safe (and possibly best) speed for traveling the twisting roads.

By the time we had been on the road for four or five of the 11 hours it would ultimately take to drive 231 miles, we were nearly overcome by unfriendly urges to get our little old car up to ramming speed and just push the slow, poky drivers out of the way.

“Wow,” I would say, “That mountain is insanely beautiful. Those colors, wow!” as we loop around a curve in the road. I’m over-compensating for my peevishness with the slow driver riding his brakes in front of us.

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Slow drivers wait for us. Not just when we are away from home, but around the Valley, too. We try to pass. They appear out of nowhere, pull out in front of us, and slow to a crawl. If, by some minor miracle we briefly break free, another slow driver is waiting and he or she is going our way. All the way.

It took from early morning to sundown to complete the trip. We crawled through Maine and New Hampshire and as the sun was setting, limped into Vermont. We made it. We had fully experienced the glory days of yesteryear on our highways.

Never have I appreciated Dwight D. Eisenhower more. Truly, we had overcome.

THE MAGIC WORMHOLE OF MEMORY

What’s so great about me? Probably that I know how to laugh … and sometimes, I can make you laugh, too. Now, let us return to those moments in remembered time … back … back … back …

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To when we were young and stupid — as opposed to old and stupid. Through the magic wormhole of memory, to the back seat of the family sedan as we travel the roads together …


“Oh shut up. Can’t you kids ever stop squabbling back there? I’m going to put both of you on a time out, I swear I am.”

“But MOM, he TOUCHED ME!”

“Loretta, I am going to touch you and then you will have reason to cry. Joey, leave your sister alone.”

Voice of boy child with strong adenoidal whine: “But MOOOOOOM, she’s taking up the whole back seat and I can’t help touching her. And why can’t I touch her? She touches me all the time.”

“She does what??”

“I do not”

“Do too.”

“DO NOT!@!”

{Long pause.}

In a whisper: “Do too.”

“Do not.”

A booming baritone from the front seat, the Voice of Dad, speaks: “One more word out of either of you and I will stop this car and you will both be crying and you’ll have a damned good reason.”

{Whispers}

“Do not.”

“Do too.”

{Pause, pause, pause}

The sound of vomiting fills the car along with a sickening and pungent odor.

“Ew. Yuk. MOM he barfed all over me! Make him clean it up.”

Chorus:

“ARE WE THERE YET?”

(No, we are NOT there yet.)