BEST FRIENDS FOR AN AFTERNOON – Marilyn Armstrong

It has nothing to do with hooking up or any other kind of sex. It has to do with becoming the closest of friends with a complete stranger for one afternoon, then never seeing him or her again.

One year, about 30 years ago, I was visiting friends in Montreal. I was poor, didn’t have a reliable car, so I took the bus from New York to Montreal. It was a five-hour ride. I figured I’d sleep most of it, but instead, I found myself seated next to an Indian (from India) medical student who was studying medicine at McGill University. He had just been visiting friends in New York and it was time to go back to studying.

He explained that he was on a scholarship from India and the deal was, he would study, become a doctor, then go back to India and do three years of work there to compensate the government. But, he said, he wasn’t going back.

I was surprised. “But you took the money,” I pointed out. “Don’t you feel you owe them something?” He sighed.

“India is so big,” he said. “So poor. There is very little I could do there that would mean anything. But I could do some great work here in Canada. Research work that might save many people and not just for three years. Maybe for a hundred years.”

He then talked about India’s relationship with Great Britain. “Mostly, everyone hates the British, but they gave us one thing for which we will always be grateful.”

I raised both eyebrows (I can’t raise just one, sorry) and looked at him.

“English,” he said. “Before the British, we spoke hundreds of languages. In each valley, the villages had their own language. Across the nation, we couldn’t talk to each other. Then along came the English and suddenly, we could communicate. For that, we are grateful. It may not be our best language, but it the one everyone speaks.”

After that — getting a look at India I had never seen before — I passed along all of my current issues including trying to get a Jewish divorce in Israel while living in New York, a process so complicated that even 32 years later, I get a headache thinking about it. Not to mention the nasty piece of work who,  for hard-to-fathom reasons, I had married. And children. Mine. His. Ours. As well as the big ocean between us.

Greyhound bus terminal

The two of us never even exchanged names. When we parted at the bus station in Montreal, we had no thought of ever meeting again.

We were best friends for one afternoon on a long bus ride between cities. And three decades later, I still remember it.

ON THE ROAD AGAIN – Marilyn Armstrong

Not a rainy day nor a sunny one. Just a day. Cold, no snow or rain. Coming home from Connecticut. Feeling better about the world.

Good thing I had a camera. Traffic was mostly bumper-to-bumper from when we left the Curley house until we were almost home. At least occasionally, until it was fully dark, I had something to do.

Not exciting pictures, but … pictures.

A cloudy sky
Clouds through the trees
Too many cars
Still too many cars
Darkness is falling
Through a tunnel
And back on the road, but getting too dark to shoot

I tried some interesting textures since the subject wasn’t exactly thrilling. I had fun playing with photographs. There’s not a huge amount of excitement between Connecticut and Massachusetts. Just too many vehicles.

TRYING TIMES FOR TRAVELERS – Marilyn Armstrong

We almost never travel these days. The last time we stayed in a hotel was when we went to a wedding in Boston. We made the pricey decision to stay overnight in a nice hotel, or at least the nicest hotel we could manage. That way, we could enjoy the wedding without worrying about the long, dark drive home late at night.

I made the reservation about six weeks in advance, just after getting the invitation. A few days before the event, 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 had already given them a credit card, so there was no reason why there should be any kind of problem.

aloft hotel aerialshot

There was no confirmation or even a reference to our having made a reservation. Nor was there any information about the hotel and its facilities. Instead, when I opened the email, it told me to log-in to their “club.”

You know how it works, right? Your airline, hotel, rental car are part of a much larger corporation that includes other hotels, motels, and rentals. They want to parlay your one-night reservation into a long-term relationship. Not likely, in our case, but I understand it’s their job to generate business. I don’t mind all the rest of the stuff, but where was the information I needed?

The problem was that this login screen required a username and password. I had neither. The email also lacked a few basics. Like the hotel’s address, phone number, directions, and information about parking. All of that information was probably accessible in their application. Which I couldn’t access.

They did include a corporate phone number. No address or reservation number. No confirmation number. I sighed that huge heaving sigh I use when I know I’m going to spend the next several hours dealing with customer service.

aloft lobby

I called the corporate office. They couldn’t help me. Nor could they transfer me to the hotel, but they found the hotel’s phone number. I called the hotel. After being put on hold for far too long, a man got on the phone. I explained the problem and he said, “Sorry, I’ll send you a confirmation now.”

The email turned out to be a full 6 web pages. In full color with animated graphics.

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

I called back. “Can’t you just send me a plain text confirmation? And this time, please include the hotel’s actual address, phone number, and whatever other information I will need during check-in.”

So he sent me another email. Still no address, 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? Are you walking distance from the Sheraton?” This hotel was part of the Sheraton group, so I had a feeble hope that they were near one another.

It turned out parking was $40 per night and was several blocks away. In a lot that was not adjacent to their hotel. Moreover, the Sheraton was 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. Goodbye convenience. Hello, expensive and inconvenient.

“Oh,” he said. “Well, we have disabled parking at the hotel. You could park there. That 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 two disabled spots and both are taken.

“Oh,” he assured me. “There’ll be space.” I’m wondering how come he’s sure because I’m not.

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. Maybe put an orange cone in the space. 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?

It was a nice hotel, though it had no dining facilities, not even a coffee shop. The only food you could get was from vending machines. Still, the room was clean and bright and the bed was comfortable. It was a tiny room without a dresser or closet. Just a bar with a couple of hangers. Clearly not a place you’d want to stay more than a night. It was the airline seat of hotel rooms. Rather like the least expensive room on a cruise ship when you won’t pay extra for a bigger room.

I’m old enough to remember when travel was something to which we looked forward. I would call a hotel or motel, made a reservation, then off we went. Sometimes we didn’t even make reservations but stayed wherever we happened to be. I fondly remember the good old days when a reservation involved one phone call, not half a day trying to get basic information and confirmation. Isn’t computerization supposed to make our lives easier?

Ironically, when I later googled the hotel, my reservation came up online with a note that only I could see displaying my reservation. Why didn’t I think of that? How did the information get into Google when I couldn’t get it on my computer?

USING A GPS IN NEW ENGLAND – Marilyn Armstrong

When the GPS’s first came out and the prices dropped from ridiculously high to more-or-less normal, I was an immediate consumer. I was working in Groton, Connecticut which was more than 140 miles from my home.

Even though I didn’t have to go in every day, three days a week of driving 280 miles round trip with a 9 hour day in-between was a killer schedule. A lot of the roads I took were unmarked — no signs telling you what road you were on or which road you were crossing — and very small, so maps didn’t show them. I needed a GPS just to get home at night.

One night, on my way home, I got turned around in Rhode Island. I went around in circles for nearly an hour and finally called home and told them I was lost, had no idea what road I was on. What was worse, I was in the middle of nowhere, so short of calling the police — and since I couldn’t tell them where I was, I was not sure that would actually help — I might never see them again. Eventually, I found my way out of the loop and promptly bought a GPS. It was a small Tom-Tom, but with a little help from my electronic friend, I got home most nights.Since then — about 10 years ago — they have greatly improved the GPS to the point where you can’t be sure they can get you from point A to point C without taking you through golf courses, tiny, snow-filled back roads, swamps, vineyards, collapsed bridges, and roads that may have been real roads100 years ago, but clearly haven’t been used since. I know this because in the center of the road is a full-grown oak tree. It’s a dead giveaway.

So despite having a reasonably “up-to-date” GPS — a Garmin this time — I always print out a set of directions on paper. It’s why so many packages from Amazon don’t show up. Whatever GPS they are using, it seems to send the trucks down unpaved roads which when they aren’t buried in snowdrifts are socked in by mud, sometimes quick-mud (quicksand, but a lot gooier).

To make things just that much more complicated, most of New England is phobic about road signs. When we were in San Francisco, we could find our way around because not only were there street signs on every corner, but they would have a sign two streets ahead to warn you of an upcoming street.

In New England, they refuse to tell you what road you are on and often, what town you are in. You find yourself in the humiliating position of having to ask passing strangers what the name of the town is and what road you are on.

As often as not, the person you ask can’t give you an answer because they themselves don’t know anything. They just work there. The only route they know is the one that gets them to work. On top of that, most people are clueless about giving directions.

When they try, they are wrong. They say left when they mean right and have no idea of the distances between one place and another … AND they don’t know the name of the road (not that this would be much help since there are no signs to tell you the name) or route numbers. Even if they did, the absence of signs makes it hard to know what to do.

Even using a GPS as a map without chatter, many roads supposedly have names that no one ever uses. One of our nearest roads is Route 146A. That’s what everyone calls it because its official name changes every half mile or so. Each town or area calls it something different — and a GPS doesn’t EVER use route numbers except for limited access interstate highways, probably because these don’t have names. But if they do (such as the Massachusetts Turnpike aka “the Pike” and the Merrit Parkway (aka Route 15), they will use it and when that name is not in use in a particular town, change the name to South Main Street and you will have to deduce that it’s actually the same road.

And finally, there is the issue of “go straight on the main road.” New England has no straight roads. Between hills, mini-mountains, waterways, and inconveniently placed towns, everything loops, and swings. Worse, the GPS tells you to “make a right,” but what you see is a fork and both seem to be going in the same direction — sort of rightish. There’s no sign, so take your best guess. My best guess is inevitably wrong. You’d think all you need to do to fix the error is turn around and go back, but much of the time, you can’t do that. Either the road is too narrow or you’ve stumbled onto a highway and you have to find an exit that will let you reverse directions. There are parts of the state where that is impossible. Like anywhere near Quincy (pronounced for you out-of-towners) as Quinzy. So was it John Quinzy Adams? Just asking.

Why don’t they have street signs in New England? We have all had this conversation, usually after we’ve calmed down and had something to eat and drink. Our best guess is the Yankee belief “if you don’t know where you are, why are you here?” The area isn’t set up for tourists, which is funny because tourism is one of our major industries.

This isn’t as much of a problem for people who have a sense of direction, but neither Garry nor I ever know where we are unless it’s close to home. You can’t get seriously lost in the Blackstone Valley unless you use a GPS. We don’t have a lot of roads. Maybe all told, we have a dozen “real” roads. The rest are trails, suitable for ATVs, horses … and walking your dog. They certainly aren’t intended for cars or trucks. Many of them are bordered by what looks like the ground but is really swamp mud.

Recently, Garry has been doing a lot of traveling around Massachusetts and remarkably, probably due to printed directions from Google or Mapquest, has managed to get where he is going. It’s no small miracle. Also, for reasons I don’t fully understand, when we travel together, Garry is always sure I know the way. Or at least know it better than he does.

When I point out that we are equally lost, he thinks I’m hiding something. He never believes I’m as ignorant as I am. Is that a compliment?

I need to buy a new GPS, but I’ve been putting it off. The more they “fix” the GPS maps, the harder it gets to actually find the location to which you are trying to go. GPS’s are great for long, interstate drives and arriving in a neat suburb. On the other hand, when we used to drive up to Jackman, Maine, at some point the GPS would say “no directions are available for this area.” You’re on your own and good luck. Watch out for moose.

I suppose it’s like all other software,  upgrades usually don’t improve the product. After you’ve bought a new one, you wish you’d kept the old one, even if it is inaccurate. They now have so many traffic cams in cities and suburbs so a GPS can (and does) read the wrong input. Sometimes, it shows us driving down the Charles River.

Also, for reasons best known to their designers, no matter what settings you input, they will try to send you by their idea of “the shortest route” as opposed to the route that will get you there safely and quickly.

In other words, upgrades aren’t. Moral? If the old one works, keep it until it dies. Then buy a cheap one without all the frills. It’s the maps you need, not the radio.

A WALK IN THE WOODS: A SYMBOLIC JOURNEY WITH PICTURES – Marilyn Armstrong

There used to be a game we played. Not so much a game as a mental imaging exercise. I originally heard it in the 1960s when I was in college. I was told it wasn’t psychology, but rather drew on symbolism, images out of mythology and folklore. And, of course, our subconscious.

If you feel inclined, come along with me. The meanings, to the degree I understand them, are at the bottom of the page after the photo gallery. I’m pretty sure if you Google this, you’ll find other versions.

1. Imagine you are going to take a walk in the woods. What kind of day is it (sunny, cloudy, raining, warm, cold, summer, winter, autumn, spring)? It can be anything, whatever you see.

2. There is a path ahead of you. Describe the path (open and clear, full of rocks and other hazards, overgrown, etc.).

3. What is the woods like? Pine? Oak? Lots of shrubs? Does the sun filter through the trees??

4. As you walk along the path, you see a structure. What is it? It can be any kind of structure — house, shed, ruin, church, modern — anything. Describe it, please. Does anybody live there? Are they home? Do you go inside? How do you feel about the place?

5. Now it’s time to leave the house. You are back on the path and you come to a body of water. What kind of water (stream, river, ocean, lake, puddle, creek, swamp, etc.). You need to get to the other side. How do you cross the water? (Let your imagination roam free!)

6. Having crossed the water, you rejoin the path. As you stroll or stride along the path, you look down and see a cup. What does it look like? Do you pick it up? Keep it or not?

7. Further down the path, you spy a bear. What is the bear doing? What do you do about the bear?

8. You have passed the bear and you have walked a distance until you come to a wall. What does the wall look like? Can you see over it? Do you know (or can you see) what is on the other side of the wall?

What it means? This is what I learned. If you know another interpretation, you are welcome to tell me about it. I’ve been trying to find out the source of the “walk” for a very long time. Most of my adult life, actually.

1. The walk is life and the day is how you see life — dark or bright, shadowy or sunny. All that you see is part of your vision of life. Whether or not there are obstacles in the path or the path is clear are also parts of it. The nature of the woods is also descriptive of how you see life.

Little house and big maple tree

2. The structure is your childhood. Many people see a storybook house, gingerbread or the woodsman’s cottage out of Hansel and Gretel. Some people find it terrifying. Some people go inside and don’t want to leave.

3. The body of water indicates how you feel about the challenges in your life. The body of water can be just a puddle you step across or an ocean that requires you conjure up an ocean liner to cross. It can be deep and dark, scary or someplace lovely into which you want to wade or swim. How difficult (or easy) it is to cross the water talks about how you feel about overcoming obstacles you {did, are, will} face.

4. The bear equals responsibility. Some people run, others freeze. Some people make friends with the bear and it accompanies them for the rest of the walk. It’s all in your imagination and there are no limits.

5. The wall is death. The most common things to see on the other side are a beautiful mansion (heaven?) … more forest (reincarnation or just a continuation?) … the ocean … One guy saw a burning forest (ouch). What you see is what you see and it may not be what you expect.

I have done this several times at different ages and stages of my life. My answers were different each time, reflecting my current self and shows development. What little I know of this and its origins makes me suspect it was created during the 1800s.

I hope you enjoyed your stroll.

BISHKEK ANYONE? – RICH PASCHALL

 Where in the world is … ?  by Rich Paschall

One of many things that surprises me about “modern” education is the absence of geography as part of the school curriculums. When I’ve asked any young person during the last two decades if they’ve taken geography in school, the answer is usually the same.  “Geography?  What’s that?”

When I was in school, we studied geography.  We had geography books.  The classroom had maps so we could understand where in the world we were and where the rest of the world was.  These were huge maps that rolled up like a window shade.  There were pictures pinned to a bulletin board of various places we could study.

Geography courses were our window to the rest of the world, our introduction to other people and cultures. I always found it interesting, although I did not know at the time just how useful it would become.

Earth

There were many things about geography that I did not find so interesting.  The topography was lost on someone who lived in an area that is completely flat.  Information about crops and commerce held no delight at the grade school level.  The local currency meant nothing to a boy with a tiny allowance.

Climate was interesting, however, to someone who had experienced the severity of all four seasons.  I could not imagine living somewhere that had a colder climate then we have in winter.  I did imagine that places with warmer weather throughout the year would be great to visit, especially in winter.  Pictures of green mountains or long, sandy beaches fueled my imagination.  I did not think I would ever get to travel much, but the views of great scenery and different types of structures were the joys of my young fantasy vacations.

Lost Dutchman now found

With the news of the world more available than ever, you would think that geography would be an important field of study to more than the CIA.  Perhaps those in charge of various school boards around the country do not think so.  Can you match these cities recently in the news with their countries?


Match the city with the country to which it belongs:

City                              Country
Mogadishu                United States
Castañer                    Israel
Bishkek                      Turkey
Ankara                       Kyrgyzstan
Tiberias                     Somalia


When I was first working in freight forwarding, a young person was trying to pronounce the name written on one of the folders. She may have been filing items by destination. To just look at it, you would not think it a mystery, but this uneducated person was lost.

“Tell a, Tayla, tellavi…”

At that, a very annoyed supervisor in another group yelled over to our area, “Tel Aviv! Tel Aviv! It’s in the news sometimes.”

It was the capital of Israel at the time, and it is the only international airport in the country. I guess we are always stunned by people who do not know the capital cities or the largest airports of any country.

Do they know their own state’s capital?

By the way, the supervisor shouting the name of the city across the office remains one of our favorite air freight stories. It also points to the deficiency in our education on geography.

Another part of Earth

When I got a job in air freight, I think I already had a good idea of the capitals and major cities of most countries, and now I have come to learn their airport codes as well. The locations of major hubs of commerce and the airlines that fly there are key to our success.

You could put Asian freight on Lufthansa, who makes its first stop in Frankfurt, but it may make more sense to put it on a carrier going west to Asia.  It really depends where you are. If you are on the east coast, for example, it might be better to send it east.  Lufthansa does go to most places in the world.  If you are in Chicago, west is usually better.

Oh, come on … take a wild guess!

We can send your Shanghai freight from Chicago on a European carrier, but the distance will be greater to fly east, the cost will likely be more and the time of travel will be greater. No plane would have the range to go nonstop.  However, there are Chinese carriers, as well as American Airlines, who fly nonstop from ORD (Chicago, O’Hare) to PVG (Shanghai, China).

Because of competition, you are likely to get a good rate for the faster transit.  In freight forwarding, it is important to have an idea where everything is located in order to make the best routing decisions.

This is true for your vacation trip as well.  When I tell people I have gone to Alsace, France, they usually conclude I must have flown to Paris.  The truth is, I usually fly to Frankfurt, Germany which is about the same distance from Strasbourg and is usually cheaper.  I have also considered the Euro-Airport at Mulhouse, France which is closer, and the airport at Zürich, Switzerland.

Strasbourg, France

Grab a map and discover the world.

Here are the answers, although I am tempted to tell you to grab a Geography book or just Google it.

1 – Mogadishu is the capital of war-torn Somalia.
2 – Bishkek is the capital of Kyrgyzstan.
3 – Ankara is the capital of the Republic of Turkey.  You probably thought it was Istanbul.
4 – You can swim in the Sea of Galilee from Tiberias, a favorite city of the Roman Emporer who originally built the city.
5 – Castaner is a mountain community in Puerto Rico that was devastated by the hurricane.  Yes, it is part of the US.  But there is a city (town) of the same name in the United Kingdom.
6 – Can you find Ouagadougou on a map?
7 – Do you own a map?

A VISIT TO COLOMBIA – Rich Paschall

I have seen a few articles that claim Medellin is one of the best international cities for retirement. The US dollar goes far and the climate is pleasant.Forbes rates Colombia the number 6 country in 2019 for International Living. I have made two trips to Colombia. Here are my thoughts after the first visit.

Medellin, RICH PASCHALL

A mile high in the Andes mountains of Colombia, located in the Aburrá Valley, lies the city of Medellin. It is somewhere between the size of Los Angeles and Chicago. Some of its neighborhoods are built up the sides of the mountain, but the city center is mostly flat.

Nevertheless, bring a good pair of walking shoes to make you tour around town.  Traffic in downtown Medellin can be something close to gridlock in midday.  A large number of buses and taxis will not help you get around quickly.

Medellin downtown
Medellin downtown

My trip was somewhat of a lark. A longtime internet friend encouraged me to come visit. Although we talked often on Google Hangout and Skype and chatted on Facebook Messenger, we had never actually met.  After seeing all the Facebook pictures of friends and relatives, it was as if we were old friends.

The weather there was just about perfect, so I decided to use my few remaining vacation days and hop a plane south.

I was not eager to transit another country, I decided to take American Airlines from Chicago to Miami and then fly directly to Medellin. It would have been cheaper to connect in Panama City, but lacking Spanish, it seemed a better choice to connect in an American city. Besides, the Miami connecting times were shorter.

Columbia’s international airport is in Rionegro, 45 minutes from Medellin. It’s at a higher altitude than Medellin and offers amazing views of the tropical region. Although the airport is the second largest in Colombia, it was closer in size to Sarasota, Florida, though much busier. The airport is modern and efficient. Much easier to get through customs than Miami — a story for another time.

My friend was waiting for me as I came out of customs.  From this point on in the trip, it’s a good idea to have someone local with you, even if you speak Spanish, which I don’t.  Most signs are entirely in Spanish … which by itself can be a problem for tourists.

I had exchanged currency at the airport in Miami — never a good thing. Rates of exchanges at airports are the worst. Even ATM rates would have been better, but then you have fees, so I suppose it’s a toss-up.  I did not see currency exchanges in the city, but there were some large banks in downtown Medellin that might have been able to make the exchange at a better rate.

You definitely need cash. Most stores and restaurants take only cash, even when you see a MasterCard sticker on the door. The only place you’ll likely use plastic is at an ATM.

There are plenty of taxis and buses at the airport, so transportation to the city should be no problem. My friend took us to the taxi line. The first one was for a shared cab to a designated spot in the city. He chose this for economy

We shared the ride with a couple and a single person. A three-way split is very economical.  In fact, it was cheaper than from O’Hare airport to downtown Chicago — and O’Hare is actually in Chicago proper.

Road to the airport
Road to the airport

The ride down the mountain in the dark was an adventure. The road into the airport is wide and well-lit, but shortly you are on a winding two-lane highway. In the mountains. At night.

The driver knows the road well, but racing down was quite a thrill.  We would get tossed from side to side like a roller coaster ride.  When we arrived in town and dropped off the others, my friend negotiated a rate to his apartment.

At night we visited a neighborhood filled with outdoor cafes and sports bars. A large central square was crowded. You could buy beverages at nearby stores. The square and two streets along it formed an “L” and were like Bourbon Street in New Orleans — one big open-air party.

The downtown shopping area the next day was crowded.  We went by Metro and returned by taxi. The wide walkways on many streets could accommodate outdoors stands and carts where a variety of goods were available. Tropical fruit drinks (nonalcoholic) were everywhere  — a good thing when you’re doing serious shopping.

Downtown shopping
Downtown shopping

Many stores featured products from the US. We saw one store supposedly selling “USA brand” clothes.  My friend said to me, “all originals,” with a wink and a laugh. I decided after a while that I could figure out which places sold authentic goods and high-end merchandise because they had armed security guards at the door. It did not appear the police walking the streets were armed, although I didn’t study them.

Medellin is known as the “City of Eternal Spring” because of its temperate climate.  The average annual temperature is 72 degrees Fahrenheit.  Most days are in the 80s all year long, but since they are in the mountains, it cools off to low 60s at night.

Upper 50’s would be a cold night.  Few places had air conditioning. Restaurants and bars are open-air and the climate is perfect for living outdoors. Cool enough for comfortable nighttime sleeping, too. For my visit, the days were in the upper 80s, and the cooler nights did not require jackets.

If your knowledge of Medellin comes from news stories from 1993 or earlier, forget it.  They have worked hard to live down the past and transform the city into a welcoming place.

If he comes up in conversation, locals will tell you that Pablo Escobar does not live there anymore (died in 1993), just as Chicagoans sometimes have to say that Al Capone does not live here anymore (he died in 1947).

The people are friendly, food is good, the climate is great, and the scenery is beautiful. The trip was too short and I wouldn’t mind another visit. Especially in the winter.

Visit the Medellin photo gallery at Sunday Night Blog here.

Also see: “The Top 10 Places In The World To Retire: 2 New Lists,” Forbes.com, January 4, 2019.

NOT THE BUCKET LIST – Rich Paschall

Things To Do, by Rich Paschall

Perhaps you have a “bucket list.” You know, things you must do before you “kick the bucket.” That is to say before you die. Such lists seem to be popular with middle-aged and older people. Younger people may not give this much thought, as they are more likely to believe there is plenty of time left to do things.

Domed stadium, natural grass, Miller Park

If you have a list, what do you have on it?  Do you want to visit all the MLB stadiums? NFL stadiums? NBA arenas? Do you want to climb mountains? Perhaps Mount Everest holds an allure. Perhaps you want to skydive or water ski.

Maybe you want to swim with the dolphins, or watch the humpbacked whales come out of the ocean? Perhaps you wish to travel. London? Paris? Rome? Far East? The Middle East? Do you want to go to the islands of the Caribbean or the South Pacific?

In London with a friend

It may not be too late to learn a language, take a wine tasing course or learn to paint (pictures, not houses).  Maybe you want to run a marathon. You could try for every state. Maybe you want to run with the bulls. I hope you are fast. Maybe you want to visit famous places close to home. You could travel to the Grand Canyon, Niagara Falls or the monuments of Washington, DC.

I guess if we thought about it enough, we could put down hundreds of ideas.  If you made a list, how would you prioritize them? Would you do the easiest to complete first, or start with the hardest? Time, health and financial resources could play into all of your decisions.

Grand Canyon

I don’t have a bucket list, nor do I feel the need to make one. I don’t wish to have a list of things I must accomplish. What if I didn’t finish them all? Was life a failure? What if I did finish them? Do I just wait around after that for the grim reaper?

Of course, there are things I would like to do. They are not bucket list items, just things I would like to accomplish if time and resources allow. I have eliminated the ambitious running around the country or around the world ideas. Anything that is too arduous is out.

Selestat, France

If you have any kind of chronic pain, you immediately cross items off the list as not worth the time and aggravation. If you have a plate and 8 screws in your spine, roller coasters and bungee jumping are not things you will consider if you still have your sanity. There are limitations to what the human body will put up with at certain stages of life.

This year I decided on something I should do that had crossed my mind before. There just was no more putting it off. The opportunity to get away was at hand and all I needed was the go-ahead from my destination hosts. When the arrangements were complete I was off to the destination that had moved to the top of my list of places to go. Uxbridge, MA!

Downtown Uxbridge

If you have been following SERENDIPITY for very long, then you have seen plenty of photos of Uxbridge from Marilyn and Garry Armstrong. Marilyn is our editor, photographer, publisher, sage and idea guru. I dropped in on SERENDIPITY in 2013 with a short story, and Marilyn has let me hang around ever since. I am here on Sundays and I sneak in an extra article from time to time on another day.

The interesting thing about the internet is you can contribute articles from anywhere. While Marilyn and Garry are outside the Boston area, I am in Chicago. You may be surprised to learn that prior to this year, we had never met. So Uxbridge became my destination of choice.

My hosts: Garry, Duke, Marilyn

We were going to tour the area and visit many of the spots I had seen before on the blog. The weather held other ideas for us. We were in the pattern of daily ran and spent much of the time indoors. As it turns out, that was just fine. We never ran out of things to talk about. After five and a half years of articles, comments and emails there were plenty of topics to discuss. It was just a couple of days before my trip in early June that I heard Marilyn’s voice for the first time. We were coordinating our arrangements by phone. In the days ahead, we had a lot of time to talk.

With a very small window of opportunity, we headed out to grab a few pictures. The rain held off for a few moments allowing us our touristy pictures. Then it was back inside to our regular greeters, the three dogs.

Cameras at the ready

Nighttime gave us the opportunity to view Westerns we had discussed back and forth in comments and emails. This included one of the Armstrongs’ favorites, Rustlers’ Rhapsody. It is an homage to the great B-movies of a bygone era. It’s a good cast and wacky entertainment. I will get the opportunity to see this send-up again and again as I was sent home with a copy.

It was the opportune moment to meet friends at the other side of the internet universe. I don’t know if I will ever make it back to Uxbridge, but it was on this year’s To Do List and it got done.

I make a careful distinction between things I want to do and a “bucket list.” I have no crazy ideas or personal challenges, just a desire to visit friends when I can. It does not matter where they are in the world. If I can make the trip, then it becomes the next adventure.

Check out this adventure’s photo gallery at Sunday Night Blog: A Visit To Uxbridge

PORTLAND STREET ART – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I recently spent two days with friends in Portland, Oregon, the Vermont of the West. Pot is legal and the arts are thriving, all over town.

Our friends drove us and walked with us all around town so we got a good overview of the city.

Beautiful design on a billboard in town
This design covered two buildings next to each other

Artwork on the side of a building
The side of another building. I love the whimsy of this one!
Another cool scene on the side of a building
Courtyard entrance to a shop

On our drive through town, I took a picture of an interesting sculpture I saw on the porch of a house. Later that night, our friends drove us to a local tourist attraction – a psychedelic light show that a local resident projects every night. I realized that this was the house with the interesting ‘sculpture’ – much more interesting with the lights!

CAR-MA AND COPS – Marilyn Armstrong

It was a lovely crisp Saturday morning. I was heading north out of New York to visit Garry in Boston. I don’t remember which car I was driving. Probably my turquoise VW Rabbit, my personal pocket rocket.

I am not a slow driver, though I try to be a careful one. If I see a wide open road and I figure I’m not going to get a ticket, I’ve been known to put the pedal to the metal, perhaps a tad faster than the legal limit. Which is why I was surprised, as I drove along in the left lane of the limited access highway, to be passed on the right and cut off — leaving just millimeters to spare — by a vehicle going so fast he nearly sucked the doors off my car.

Icy rocks

I was a bit shaken, especially since he had no reason to cut me off at all. The road was empty. He had plenty of room, so he was just being an asshole. I hadn’t even seen him coming.

“Go tiger,” I murmured, looking at my speedometer. I was going a smidge over 80 MPH, so how fast was he going? He passed me as if I were standing still.

“People like him,” I muttered, “Give all of us a bad name.”

I continued on my way, made merrier by the music on my radio … until I saw flashing lights ahead. I slowed. Then I slowed more until I was crawling along.

Blue lights were flashing everywhere. This was no normal speeding ticket stop. It was not one or two police cars. There must have been a hundred or more squad cars, motorcycles, and a couple of vans.

It was a cop convention!

On the road to Skowhegan
Open road

My speeder had plunged into the heart of a law enforcement convoy!

The fellow, a young man of unimpressive demeanor, was standing on the shoulder of the road, hands in the air looking terrified. Officers stood near him. They had bagged a good one and were clearly having fun as only a convention of cops can.

On the way to Chestnut Hill

I was happy.

Justice, so rarely served, was coming to one who thoroughly deserved it. I doubted he would ever speed again. I couldn’t tell if he had wet his pants, but I could hope.

I gave a thumbs up to the cops standing around writing as many tickets as they could think of.  I still wonder how many he got. In returns, a number of cops gave a thumbs up.

I was laughing the entire rest of the trip to Boston.

DIRECTIONAL – Marilyn Armstrong

RDP Friday: DIRECTIONAL

It’s the “clicker” in the car when you need to make a turn. If you don’t turn it on, you get a ticket. If you do, everyone crowds you in to prevent you from doing anything. I swear there are a million drivers out there who see things like directionals as a challenge to their ability to block you from any movement. It’s an actual technique in Boston. If you let your car wander a bit — just enough to avoid a ticket for dangerous driving, but sufficient to befuddle the drivers behind you, you can stop at least two lanes and sometimes three lanes of traffic.

Before there were electronic “clickers, there were hand signals. These worked pretty well, except in the middle of the winter or in the pouring rain when sticking your arm out the window will make your left arm icy, wet, or both. It was also hard on your clothing.

Car hand signals for those rare moments when your directional indicators are not inclined to blink. Hardly anyone uses them, but I have found as a passenger, leaning halfway out the window and pointing furiously at the right lane so the guy behind us just can’t possibly say he didn’t see the signal — EVEN if he was on the phone or trying to find the station that plays punk rock. It ALWAYS works. I think just seeing this old lady hanging out the window and pointing and waving her arms is a real attention-grabber. In theory, you can use a hand signal along with your electronic signals, but usually, when a hand is sticking out of the window, the driving is drying her or his fingernails. Probably not a signal.

Of course, it can also mean having a direction in life — a goal, as it were. There was a time when I had future-oriented goals. Now I have survival goals. Like: how saggy is the deck? Do I need to start a fund-raising drive now or might it not crumble until after we no longer need it?

I’m pretty sure these days, the only creatures that would miss it are the few birds that haven’t been chased away by the squirrels — and of course, the squirrels.

As an example of how pointless goals really are – even short term goals -last night, I stood up to do something. Except between standing and doing whatever I was supposed to do, I forgot.

So I stood there, determined to not sit down until I remembered why I stood up. This took a few minutes, but eventually, I realized I was looking for a container for storing CD cards for my cameras. It’s my “spare” container in which I keep the cards I have removed from the reader. It’s easy enough to forget to take the card out of the reader only to discover that you have “No recording media in camera.”

Recording media? What’s … oh. You mean the SD card. It’s in the computer. I sure hope I have another one. These days, memory has gone bye-bye, I immediately replace the card before I have a chance to forget I need one … and since there’s just a 15-second lapse between remembering and forgetting, I need to have everything at hand. This message is particularly irritating when you have your shot lined up. You press the shutter. Then you get the message. The camera could warn you sooner, couldn’t it? Like … when you turn it on? Maybe they do and I don’t notice?

At least I know if there’s no battery because the camera doesn’t turn on at all. What I don’t know is that there’s only one more shot in there, after which it’s going to shut down.

It doesn’t take long to put a card in the camera. I try to keep extras with each camera (blessed be, they ALL use the same cards!) but the picture you couldn’t take because you were missing the “recording media” or SD card never comes back. You may get a better or worse picture later, but you won’t get THAT one.

Bicycles signals, usually ignored by drivers who are talking on the phone or messing with their radio …

Meanwhile, how many people remember that there are hand signals you can use in cars and more importantly, on bicycles or motorcycles where you either have no electronic signals or it can be much less obvious what your intentions are?

Of course, there are the official signals … and then there are the “other signals.”

As I said, my personal favorite is hanging out the passenger window, waving both arms and pointing at the right lane indicating (a) a parking space!! or (b) we need to make that turn right NOW. Don’t forget your raincoat and gloves if the weather is bad.

WHAT DO YOU READ? – Marilyn Armstrong

So let’s say you’re at the airport. Your flight is delayed for six more hours, and none of your electronic devices are working. Out of juice and all the plugs are taken … and there’s no free wi-fi. Oh no!

How can you pass the time? Those chairs are too uncomfortable for sleep and you’re too old to use the floor.

I don’t believe it. You really don’t know what to do without electronic devices? You are lost without your cell phone? Really?

If you don’t have an instant answer to this, perhaps we come from different planets. I would reach into my carry-on and pick out a copy of The New Yorker or National Geographics. I could take a walk to the nearest shop (airports are full of them) and buy something to read. A newspaper maybe?

Yes, they still print them.

And the Kindle, with books already downloaded, is like carrying a whole library with you wherever you go.

If all else fails, I might consider chatting with other passengers who are waiting with me. I have had some of the most interesting conversations of my life in terminals, waiting for planes, trains or buses. Although I know you usually text, the organ into which you insert food has a dual purpose and can be used for conversation.

Despite rumors to the contrary, direct communication between living people can prove a pleasant — even enlightening — way of passing the hours. If you’ve never tried it, this would be an opportunity to expand your world! I strongly recommend you give it a try.

You really need to think about this? Seriously?

I’d probably be taking a few dozen pictures too. Airports and the people in them make great subjects. I don’t take pictures using a phone. In fact, I don’t carry a cell phone (what? say that again? You heard me … I don’t carry a cell phone).

I use a camera, a device dedicated to taking photographs. I carry enough spare batteries to get me through two weeks without electricity, so I don’t care what anyone says.

My camera WILL work, no matter where I am.