Archive for the ‘travel’ Category


If Words Are Evidence, You Should Be A Detective.* Remembering The Holidays In Southern California, December 1995

June 24, 2010

For Friday, June 17, 2010

Words are only postage stamps delivering the object for you to unwrap. • George Bernard Shaw (apropos because what I just found in the back of my journal was a variety of fifteen-year-old musings, long forgotten)

Of course, I saw relatives during a holiday visit almost fifteen years ago. Just about every relative or in-law I have lives in SoCal. But I don’t spend much time writing about family relationships. Perhaps I should, but I like viewing these connections through a lens smeared with the Vaseline® of forgetfulness.

Someone was probably grumpy. Someone else probably said something hurtful to somebody that s/he’d like to take back, but it’s too late because you can’t put the peel back on a banana unless you’re stuffing it with chocolate chips and marshmallows so you can wrap it in tinfoil and roast it over a fire. I had fun. I was ready for the solitude of home. The imagined home of nostalgic reminiscence is not the same as the home you create for yourself. The media-induced wonder of familial delight can be elusive.

That’s not the stuff I saved all these years ago and recently found in the back of the journal I used while traveling to Washington, D.C. It’s not just band names I collect. I am fond of signs, forever imagining the creative inspiration that led to a business name:

Lady Mina Skin Care & Electrolysis
The Hall of Frame
The House of Madame JoJo
Gaga Coffee House
Betty Arms Apartments (Oh, Betty, what are you doing without your arms?
Wine Mess Liquors
Inn Kahoots
Clear H2O Cafe
Poly Plaza
Kitty & Doggy Dunk
Anastasia’s Asylum (a restaurant, not an S&M attraction)
Bamboo Pizza Coffee Shop
Morry’s of Naples—“Your Party Store”
Doo Wash Café, Laundromat, Cleaners, Restaurant
Rushing Mighty Wind Christian Assembly
Hair Explosion Salon
The Grateful Head Salon
To the Maxx Hair Salon
Hair-Um (Have you noticed how many puns are used in hair establishment naming? They seem to be a Mane Attraction when naming Clip Joints.)
Jungle Video
Orchid Bowl, Home of the Galleon Room
Geoffreys of Malibu (a restaurant)
Mrs. Steve’s Donuts, Chinese Fast Food, Ice Cream
Comida China at Patty’s Chinese Express (the melding of cultures in SoCal is always interesting and I am also reminded that Via Verde is way more swanky-sounding than Green Street)
Vinyl Horse Fencing (Hmmm, I have several vinyl horses and they stay in place whether I fence them or not.)
Here’s one I want to answer the phone for: The Macadero Apartments in Atascadero. I would want to be wearing a bolero while doing so, perhaps a sombrero as well.
Chateau Lisa Apartments (Betty Arms? Chateau Lisa? Come on, folks, I know you love your names, but Bobby Avenue and Frank’s Bank and their ilk lack a certain je ne sais quoi.)
Haus of Pizza
Bobby Ray’s 24 Hour Restaurant
Hedda & Kranky’s Ice Cream
The Egyptian Pharmacy
Creative Cakery

And, of course, there are many communities like the Diamond Grove—A Gated Community for Active Adults. Do the gates keep people in or out?

I also enjoyed the compelling endorsement on a Saturn billboard, a family group who assert, “We’ll probably buy another one.”

Target announces that it’s having a “Re-Grand Opening.” What does this mean? And how grand will it actually be?

And finally, signs remind me that we can rely on advertising when we have difficulty formulating a philosophy of our own: Sauza comforts us with the reminder that “life is harsh” and that our “tequila shouldn’t be.” And then there are the friendly folks at Long Beach Cellular who provide this piece of advice: “To stay on top you got to stay in touch.” Bless their hearts. It’s too late to correct them now, although I definitely prefer my philosophical statements to be grammatically correct.

What’s your favorite sign?

“On the eighth green of Los Coyotes Country Club Golf Course is a six-year-old custom home being offered by McGarvey-Clark Realty. . .two ten-gallon salt water aquariums introduce a living room accented by a marble fireplace.” This December 23, 1995, clip from the Santa Ana Register reminds all of us that copywriters are human. I imagine as I read it that as potential buyers enter the foyer, the fish speak: “Hi, we’re the fish and this here’s the living room. Sushi, anyone?”

• This quotation is on a junior high school reader board, but by the time I’ve written it down, the school is gone and I don’t know its name.


The Kindnesses of Strangers

June 12, 2010

What this world needs is a new kind of army – the army of the kind.• Cleveland Amory

I long for home. I do not like to travel as much as I like being surrounded by the comfortable familiars of The House of Stuff. Unfamiliar sights and sounds are fascinating, but my brain is easily capable of overstimulating itself. All alone in a room, I have more than enough to think about. In a city, I am sometimes overwhelmed by cacophonous input.

I’ll soon be boarding the train for Oregon. The thing that’s struck me most about this visit to Washington, D.C., besides the wonder of seeing George Washington’s uniform, Julia Child’s kitchen, and Dorothy’s ruby slippers, is how kind and helpful everyone has been. This has filled the days with grace as my questions about where to catch this bus or that Metro train have been cheerfully answered by strangers.

It’s easy to be too busy to help someone, even if you’re being paid to do so. It’s easy to ignore those who need a moment of your time. It’s easy to be uncivil, and yet even brief civility lingers long after the encounter, adding a pleasurable glow to the day. I have always known that this matters, but this trip cross-country reminds me how important small kindnesses can be.

I’ve mentioned the kindness challenge before, but it’s worth revisiting: Today and tomorrow and the rest of the week ahead, be kind to those you encounter whenever possible.

I soon realized that no journey carries one far unless, as it extends into the world around us, it goes an equal distance into the world within. • Lillian Smith


The Train Is Moving Fast, But My Mind Isn’t Keeping Up

June 3, 2010

For Thursday, June 3, 2010

A good holiday is one spent among people whose notions of time are vaguer than yours. • John B. Priestly

I laughed when Steve Carell, the boobish boss on The Office said recently, “I don’t know what to do. My mind is going a mile an hour.” That was probably fast for Michael Scott, Carell’s character, who often thinks he’s thinking when he’s really just stirring up big clouds of mental obfuscation.

I thought about his words on the train. I brought along, as I always do everywhere I go, a bag of work. I seldom leave home without it. Work. But everything I bring isn’t really work. There are always books to be read—trash, of course, and this time, even a bit of treasure I don’t mind carrying thousands of miles back and forth across the country. There are projects I want to think about. There is art to be made. Poetry to be written. It comforts me to imagine that I might be able to bitpiece these things into my time.

These other pursuits sometimes crowd out the work that has to be done, stretching deadlines to their limit, but once again on the train, I find myself content doing nothing. Time on the train is strange.

It seems as though there is lots of it. I’m riding for days, one coast to the other. During workdays at home, I get plenty done. But on the train, the days move quickly by as I procrastinate, putting off what needs to be done in the luxury of lots of time in which to do it. Molasses minutes slide by and I look out the window. The hours accumulate and nothing much happens.

I can’t explain why I don’t feel motivated to do anything because I don’t understand these suspended moments. I am comforted by having something to do if I want to do it, but I don’t feel compelled to actually do anything. My mind is going less than a mile an hour. It’s scarcely moving at all. And it feels pretty darned good.

How and when and why do you do nothing?

All of us, from time to time, need a plunge into freedom and novelty, after which routine and discipline will seem delightful by contrast. • Andre Maurois (one can only hope)

A hobby is only fun if you do not have time to do it. • Leo Beenhakker


The Traveling Brotherhood and Sisterhood of Pantus Unfortunatus And Other Advice From The Road

June 3, 2010

For Wednesday, June 2, 2010, written after changing trains in Chicago

When traveling, consider modesty and comfort. Style is secondary, although I always try. • Advice from a friend who travels around the world with a small carry-on while looking quite spiffy

Sadly, there are people who need to take my friend’s advice. I know because I’ve seen them sleeping with their backcrack shining into the aisle and their sleepytime nipslips greeting the passing throng on the way to the dining car. Lowcut pants and deep cleavage are not advisable when you’re traveling coach unless you’ve brought a big blanket and can be assured that it will remain atop you. This might be an untapped market for the Snuggie®.

Other inadvisable attire includes visible thong underwear and pants so sheer you might as well not be wearing them. Ditto anything so tight that all the behindness those behind you don’t want to imagine is brought to life by the living color of your pantus unfortunatus.

I saw such pants in Chicago on a person who should have known better. Her or his traveling companions, and there were several of them, could have mirrored the rearview. I don’t know why they didn’t. The pants were shorts. Short shorts. The pants were yellow. Bright yellow. Really bright yellow. Really bright and really tight and really short yellow. Transparent skin on a banana. Enough said. I chose to turn my head away from the sight and now I turn my mind to other things. Like other advice.

When dining on the train in the earshot of other people who are hoping to enjoy their meal, do not discuss medical procedures in colorful detail. Lemon sorbet and the three feet removed from your colon are not complementary, nor is it advisable to share the unfortunate state your brother-in-law found himself in following an unexpected encounter with a chain saw. We’re all glad he made it, but we don’t want to picture the gore you describe as we eat our medium rare steaks. Yum.

This advice applies any time you are eating in public. My husband and I have had to get up and move many times when the restaurant conversation of people seated near us has turned to various procedures and operations, lovingly described in a one-upping competition of disgusting awfulness. And mamas? Birth is not pretty. Save this talk for the baby shower, before the honoree arrives.

Just about everything else I could say has already been said by those much more clever than I: don’t sing along with your small pocket audio device, curb your children’s enthusiasm, talk to your mother on your cell phone in soft and soothing tones, and don’t take up more than your share of the seatspace. And one final piece of advice: all those cords attached to your electronics? Don’t let them lurk in the aisles waiting to trip and trap other travelers. This is not amusing.

What’s your advice for travelers? OR What’s the worst case of pantus unfortunatus you’ve ever seen? (No names, please; protect the if-not-innocent—at least those who’ve already been embarrassed enough.)

I dress to amuse. I think of myself as a traveling clown, just hoping to bring a smile to someone’s face. • Overheard in Los Angeles’s Union Station, 2009, from a man dressed in bright orange trousers, red converse with purple socks showing between the high-tops and the jauntily-rolled up trou, a bad plaid seventies jacket with exceedingly generous lapels and those waist high vents that create a such a charming backflap, a flowered tie, and a multi-colored striped shirt. His floppy straw hat had a red, white, and blue striped band. Many buttons were pinned to those wide lapels, but I had to get in line for a seat and didn’t get a chance to sidle closer and read them.


Writing By Hand While Riding The Rails

June 2, 2010

For Monday, June 1, 2010

The traveler sees what he sees. The tourist sees what he has come to see. • G.K. Chesterton

We were supposed to have several hours in the Chicago train station, hours I’d planned to spend in leisurely word processing. I started out the trip trying to word process, but I realized that I was missing the sights and it seemed a shame to make our tiny compartment into a rolling office. So I didn’t.

I brought along a small notebook especially for blog thoughts and I’ve already filled pages with ideas and inspiration from the folks we’ve met at meals and talked to in the corridors. People are endlessly fascinating and filled with stories and it’s seldom that we have opportunities to talk with strangers.

I’m with my husband and unless we decided to invent a mutually-agreeable story, we’re struck with the truth, at least as we choose to tell it, but I just realized that we could be anyone we want to be. Hmmm. Food for mealtime thought.

Imagine that you’re having a meal with a stranger. What story would you tell about yourself?

A human being is nothing but a story with a skin around it. • Fred Allen