Thursday, August 25, 2005

Time to Go (Back)

The very first thing I am going to do after I turn thirty is leave for a cross-country roadtrip, armed with veggies, hummus, fresh fruit, Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, Flipz, and tropical Skittles. (You see how good intentions give way quickly to other, urgent roadtrip necessities, namely sugar and more sugar.)

Saturday morning I am off to the Midwest for our annual visit to see my grandpa in my true hometown (Frankfort, MI, pop. 2,000), and I couldn't be happier about it. This vacation, taken just about every year since I was zero, means certain things are in store for me: lots of stretching out on our sunny Lake Michigan beach, leisurely walks to the lighthouse at the end of the pier, drive-in viewings of month old movies on a giant scratchy screen with a box of fried chicken and a week's worth of mosquito bites, and the nightly show that we never miss--watching the sun go down while polishing off Dole Whips from the local ice cream stand.

(Dole Whips believe it or not are non-dairy ice cream cones, and I have loved them since youth. Apparently this "no dairy" thing of mine has ancient roots. Why aren't Dole Whips available anywhere but the Midwest? I don't understand this. They are the perfect treat. They are also sort of like the Roswell of ice cream products. Try to find anything official about them on the internet. Just try it.)

Where did you go this summer, gentle blog reader? I know people have been away and busy with all the events summer tries to pack in--endless weddings, some fun and some tortuous, weekend trips, in-town barbecues, family vacations. Does anyone else do the traditional summer vacation anymore, or is it just me? Let me know where I stand on this one. I know I am definitely not willing to give mine up.

I can already feel the relaxation creeping in as I think about the week ahead. Nothing is more peaceful than visiting your childhood world, especially if that world hasn't really changed since childhood. A place like Prague is interesting, frenetic, and intellectually stimulating, while Frankfort is familiar, slow, and carries the rhythms of my real life--it's my actual vacation of the summer.

Pretty soon I'll be ordering the kids' happy meal at A&W with an upgrade to the root beer float, I'll be hearing Grandpa tell the Norwegian joke about how to make Limberger cheese, and I'll be making my slow way down the Platte river in an innertube while eating salty potato chips and remembering all the other times I have done this very thing with the most precious people in my life. It's a pretty good way to start the next chapter.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Fung-Wah Fireball

Friday, August 19, 2005

Near Death Experience

Okay, I wasn't actually near death this week. That's a gross exaggeration. But I will say that my particular choice of transportation proved less sturdy in the end than I would have thought.

On paper, what's a safer way, really, to get from Boston to New York City other than a big, lumbering Chinese-mafia sponsored bus? You're on firm ground the whole time, no one on the road is going to mess with the Chinese mafia, and anything the bus hits will obliterate that, not the bus. Little chance of danger here, one would think. Oh, except for being ENGULFED BY FLAMES. (See photo.)

My shiny Fung-Wah bus left South Station, Boston for New York at precisely 9:00 am on Tuesday, August 16 (those mob types are meticulous about punctuality), whereas the bus destined for fireballs left a few hours later. (See Boston Globe description of "frightened passengers scrambling" to escape what quickly became a "charred mess.") Let's just say I'm glad I didn't sleep in that morning like I wanted to--timing apparently was important that day. To be frank, there were enough hazards lingering in the putrid bus "bathroom" that I regrettably used en route New York to make me truly thankful when I arrived in the city in one piece and unsinged, not to mention with no visible signs of venereal disease. Add it to the ranks of the airplane, the train, and the automobile--even the bus isn't a sure thing anymore. The morale of the story: don't travel.

Of course I'm not serious. Traveling is a must. But for people who fear plane travel, or who consider rock-climbing, water-skiing, and driving in third world countries to be unnecessary dangers, just remember: really, nothing is safe. In the meantime you might as well live it up while you can.

My mother and grandmother, long before I was born, once took a trip to Europe to soak up some culture and see the sights. At the Vatican, a crazy gunman shot up Michelangelo's "Pieta" they had been to see the day before. The week after they took a picturesque train ride through the Swiss countryside, the long tunnel their train traveled through collapsed. At every step of the trip, catastrophe and danger followed them--but just a wee bit too late. Which brings me back to timing, which in the end is what we really have to fall back on. You can't stay home (that's plenty dangerous too, actually) and you can't live in fear, so the only thing to do is to take the dirty bus, get on the rickety puddle-jumper, and when you arrive safe and sound, as you most likely will, let out a small sigh of thankfulness and enjoy your destination.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005


I am very lucky. I imagine for a lot of people, turning thirty brings a little anxious soul-searching, some trepidation, maybe a few tears for lost youth. It is a time people seem compelled to give their life the strict once-over. You know--am I in the right career? with the right person? What is my life, to this point, worth?

That doesn't sound so fun. I'd rather do it a different way, and this weekend my friends gave me that chance. For me, turning thirty apparently brings only an outpouring of love and fun from all the fabulous people in my life. Not a bad trade-off.

I had an inkling someone was coming to visit me this weekend when James started furiously cleaning the house Tuesday and Wednesday night. (Strange--he was going off to a bachelor party in Ft. Lauderdale for the weekend--why does he give a damn if the house is clean?) But I had NO idea that a full house party was on its way. All Friday night, as the doorbell kept ringing, I ran downstairs like it was Christmas morning to see which of my favorite people in the world was waiting below, suitcase in hand.

The crazy thing about old friends is that you can pick up right where you left off, and formality is non-existent. Old friends make themselves wonderfully at home, searching out glasses from the cupboard and opening bottles of wine, sleeping on the floor slumber-party style, using your toothpaste and your shampoo. I love this natural way of relating, the fact that we don't have to be "polite" and adult with each other all the time. It's an ease that I miss in daily life. Is it this way because we know each other so well? Because we lived in cramped dorms and crappy post-college apartments together? Or traveled through Europe sharing the same rooms, men, and seats at the back of the bus? I think so. I also think you can't exactly duplicate experiences like that these days.

What's crazier is that eight people were willing to drop their lives for the weekend and come enormous distances to help me properly celebrate turning 30, to remind me of the good things that have happened to me over the last ten years and to make me believe I can do anything I want to over the next ten. The problem with my friends is that they're too interesting, too bold, and too independent--they have ended up all around the country (and the world) in pursuit of their best lives. This means I don't see them as much as I would like, not even close, and usually someone (well, me) has to be in a wedding dress to get all these people in the same room. This was a fabulous exception to the rule.

One of the biggest surprises of the weekend was "the book," a thick book of pictures and birthday wishes from my family and a vast array of friends, put together by the incomparable Jennifer Schooler. It's the kind of book everyone should have. As I prepare to slip out of my twenties forever, it's the kind of book that reminds me how wonderful the last ten+ years have been, how many fun and stupid things I did, how many amazing times I had, and all the people I had the privilege of having them with. My birthday isn't until August 26th, but after reading page after page of loving words, shared memories of the last decade, and best wishes from beautiful people that I know will be around for my 40th birthday too, I feel ready to turn 30 now--no regrets, no reluctance. That's worth a lot.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

The Good, the Bad, and the Cesky

I'm back, and before you have time to ask me how my trip was, I'm going to sum it all up nice and simple.

The Good:
Prague is legitimately cool. Sort of like what "Main Street, Europe" Disneyland would aspire to if there was any more room to expand in Anaheim. Just an amazing collection of old buildings and unreal sights that makes the place more foreign and exotic than anywhere I've traveled in Europe.

The Bad:
This amazing collection of buildings is clogged with 2.3 million tourists. I know, not all while we were there, but it felt like it. Walking around the Old Town on a summer night is like hitting Landsdowne Street 20 minutes after the game lets out. Which is fine for a couple nights. Then you want to start killing people.

The Good:
Prague food. Here I was told boiled cabbage and gray meat would be the norm. Not so! Great thin pizza, hearty pastas, and the ubiquitous Caprese salad kept us very happy everywhere we went. There was also this truly fantastic Cuban restaurant serving authentic mojitos, huge green salads with nuts and fruit, and slabs of steaks spiced expertly and slathered with avocado pieces. Didn't taste like Communism. (Except: I guess that is how Communism tastes in Cuba. Huh.)

The Bad:
Prague food. Somewhere along the way once of these delicious meals held my future pain and suffering, in the form of a vicious stomach bug that consumed the last two days of my trip and from which I am only now recovering. I will never know which one--best not to judge. The sketchy medicine, called Cloroxinum, prescribed to me by a quaint looking Czech pharmacy, also not the best thing about the experience. (Upon arriving home and talking to my doctor, was told "you probably don't want to put anything with 'Clorox' in the name in your body.")

The Good:
Getting away. Being able to have long, extended conversations with James on a wide variety of interesting subjects that never once drifted to the following topics: laundry, bills, car problems, scheduling, grocery shopping. It's really nice to remember all those things besides being married that you have in common.

The Bad:
Trying to get home. Woozy, in serious pain, and under the influence of Eastern European medicine, I was completely unable to contribute to the "get out of town" effort when our last day came. James had to pack my suitcase (only one or two important things got left behind in our hotel room), carry all of our bags, and shepherd my groaning self through sixteen and a half hours of air travel to get back to our blessed apartment.

And the Cesky:
Cesky Krumlov is a picturesque, medieval and apparently sublime town in the Czech countryside that about 37 people told us we "had" to visit once they found out we were going to the Czech Republic. For months, everywhere we turned it was Cesky Krumlov, Cesky Krumlov, Cesky Krumlov! We started calling it "f--king Cesky" (pronounced, in our expert opinion, "Chessky") For one thing, we didn't want to go. We didn't have a lot of extra time and we really wanted to explore Prague to the fullest. On the other hand, we didn't want to miss out on the life-changing experience that was presumably Cesky Krumlov. So we debated for weeks, looked into hotels, three hour bus trips, and rental cars. Cesky became a noose around our necks that we finally shrugged off only three days into our trip, deciding not to go and able to breathe easier as a result.

For the remainder of our trip, "f--king Cesky" worked well as a catch phrase for anything we felt we lacked adequate English words to describe, kind of the way "smurf" functioned for me in the early 80's: the ridiculous gift shop prices in Old Town, Cloroxinum, the interminable security check process at the Prague airport (about 8 minutes per person), the alarming number of bachelor parties run amok on the streets, a 25% automatically included gratuity at a restaurant that will go unnamed, all of our tv channels being dubbed in German, and the utter inability for any Prague citizen to know the whereabouts of Charles University (the oldest university in Europe and my conference venue that I searched for on foot for 1 1/2 hours). Oh, and Cesky means "Czech," so best not to throw about that little epithet too audibly next time you're in Prague.

I guess wherever you go you can make a list of both the good and the bad. That's traveling--the only way to avoid it is to stay at home in your own snug bed and eat your own organic, non-parasite-y food. But that would be missing out. So, as an alternative, you can just, as I chose to do, hitch up your sad rumpled traveling pants when things don't go your way and curse the locals. Good times.