With or Without

With or Without

In the past, we have used travel agents, then gone without them, then added them back, and finally, we went with a tour company for our last two trips—until recently.

Just last month, we surrendered, tail between our legs, and went backward in travel time. The airline gods would not bless us with a passage from point A to point B, no matter how we tried and how many airlines, travel routes, multiple cities, and layover combinations we searched online. After two hours, we gave up.

“Honey, we have to see a travel agent.”

[Photo credit: Tom Barrett, Unsplash]

We sat across from our local travel agent—the flesh and blood kind—with another person from our foursome. They, too, had surrendered and agreed to pay a little extra for peace of mind. The travel agent cracked an indulgent smile, cracked her knuckles, and began the same search we had attempted. Her smile yielded to pursed lips, then a full-out frown. Then, the muttering started. Sweat all but gleamed on her forehead.

Two hours later, we (she) finally had an itinerary that worked. “It may be tight,” our stalwart travel agent announced. “You have a 45-minute connection between flights in the Madrid airport to achieve your final destination.” She hesitated. Then she looked at each of us individually to gauge our reactions as she said the five magic words: “It is a legal connection.”

I was game. I pulled out the airport’s map and airline gates for each of the flights we’d be taking. “It’s the same airline, for goodness sake, and the gates are in the same terminal,” I told my husband, who always fears the worst. (That would be his nickname, and I would, of course, be Tigger.) Besides, what are the best travel stories ever? They’re the ones when something goes wrong, and you have to sleep standing up in a doorway or something.

You’ve been there. You’re at a party. The conversation dims and slows, and the refrigerator hum becomes the loudest noise in the room. Finally, some brilliant soul begins talking about their latest trip. Then, before you know it, each person engages in travel one-upmanship, vying for the prize of the most outrageous (and memorable) story in the room.

What’s yours???

We travel to see the world, but we also want to find ourselves in the world. Traveling tests our resilience and resourcefulness. If we go to the gym and the library on Tuesdays and Thursdays at home every week, we don’t get to learn how fun it is to “nearly miss our train” (we did that in Pisa) or “take the wrong boat” (which we did in Venice more than once). Traveling is a battle. It’s a puzzle. It’s a joy. It’s sickness sometimes. But there are stories in those times, too!

Traveling is a test—a wonderful, expensive (usually but not always), exciting journey. And with or without travel agents, tour guides, travel companions, or itineraries, travel is always an adventure.

Besides, our travel agent was happy she had redeemed herself and protected her profession. But it was a close one. Whew!


Travel Writing — It Wasn’t the Truth

Perhaps I’ve traveled too far. Perhaps not enough.

Perhaps traveling is not about geography but traversing the soul.

What I believed was the truth bore me down the river

With rocks and rapids until

the falsity turned the river into a stream and then

a dry trickle.

I missed the truth because what I thought was important

–the white spiral-bound book I’d written–

still lay on the shelf

as 75,000 words of blood squeezed

dry of white lies.


End of the Track, Start of a Story

How did we end up here?

Promontory Summit marks the spot where the Union Pacific (starting in the east) and the Central Pacific (starting in the west) railroad companies finally connected hundreds of miles of train tracks that eventually became the Transcontinental Railroad. The work began in 1863 and was finalized with the “Golden Spike” Ceremony on May 10, 1869 at this very site.

The huge undertaking was momentous and costly in terms of money, lives, and resources. It was a magnet for greed, graft, and corruption, and an engineering and human accomplishment that rivals the Great Wall of China and the Pyramids in scope.


So, you’d think there would be a huge freeway sign or a wide, six-lane highway leading to what is now the Golden Spike National Historic Park. You might want search lights or a water park or something. But no. Like many National Parks, the entrance seems at once anticlimactic and low tech. But then, that’s what makes this park visit-worthy and thought provoking. Here’s the thing: They didn’t have telephones much less mobile phones back then. They accomplished this feat with the aid of the telegraph, invented in 1838 not long before the Transcontinental Railroad (TCRR), with the Transcontinental Telegraph (1861) being an integral part of the Civil War and later the TCRR. The Pony Express was no longer needed. And as with many historical landmarks, there are acres of historical facts hidden in this off-the-beaten-path locale. This short video offers a quick introduction.

How’d We End Up Here? 

We went to Promontory Summit because we were visiting my brother and his wife in Utah, but it wasn’t on our touring radar at all. Guess what? It ended up being one of my very favorite places to visit because it sparked my interest in how the railroad got started, how it was finished, and how they overcame all the challenges in between.

“Traveling” can be a hard core launch into planning, hotels, meals, touring, and spending. Oh, yes, spending! Or it can be a spontaneous, serendipitous, didn’t-spend-any-money-except-the-gas kind of  trip down the highway that leads you to learning about any country–in this case, the United States.

I took the railroads for granted! And yet building the TCRR was a part of our history–for better or for worse–that I would not have been excited about but for this car ride to the historic site. It’s terrible to hear the stories about slavery, the unimaginably bad weather, hundreds of deaths, and unconscionable hardships that made this one of the most difficult undertakings. But it also demonstrates how humans with big dreams overcome many nightmares in the name of progress.

Soaking It In

Travel in your neighborhood or across the world! Be curious. You’ll be amazed at what you can learn and discover. As the kids say, “It’s dope. It’s sick.” I say, “It’s amazing.” From this end of the track visit, I started and finished a novel. It’s almost as big an undertaking (okay, I said almost) as the Transcontinental Railroad, so inspired was I by the story of it.

How about you? Can you find something in your travels that will inspire you? Maybe you write music. Or you paint. Or you’re writing your memoirs or a blog. Go traveling and start your story. Even if your travels are in your own town. There’s so much to see and do wherever you live.




Travel Advice: Smell Where You Are

Capturing Rural Boston Aromas

“Nothing awakens reminiscence like an aroma.”

                               ~Victor Hugo

If I whiff a sunscreen that remotely smells like the old “Sea and Ski” suntan lotion from back in the day, I think of Lake Tahoe, California, where we spent every summer when I was growing up. One of the most enjoyable parts of travel across this wide world is the aromas that assault or massage our olfactory nerves, depending.

For instance, when I exit a plane (or an airport), I inhale. Deeply. It’s a first hit. Before your eyes and ears adjust, your nose has the leading edge, as it were, to breathe in the essence of a milieu, enhancing and enlarging what your eyes and ears see and hear. As you move toward a city’s beating heart, you’re sure to gather the odors of its humanity… to smell the country’s living conditions, if that’s fair to say.

Equally, as you approach an uninhabited forest, desert, or mountainside, they each exhale their singular natural beauty. The tang of critters’ scat or the musky, mulchy loam in dark forests might invite tears. I often find the welling up of such feelings so sudden and unexpected that I am ashamed. “Really? Get it together!” I say sternly to my maudlin, sappy self. Yet, the wise salty flow ignores me, happy in its reminiscence and glad we were caught unaware.

It’s another reason to travel. By traveling, one finds oneself. It’s not the same as seeing the National Geographic version on YouTube. It’s not the same as looking at travel photos and brochures, magazines, or those thick guidebooks. Are they helpful? Perhaps. “Tantalizing?” Yes! They are stuffed with the food you’d like to smell and the sights you’d like to see. The well-written, feels-like-you’re-there descriptions of the animals, people, buildings, art, culture, music, and landmarks of all kinds beckon you to visit from the shiny pages. But all you can smell is the ink. The pages are flat. The animals don’t make a peep. The gorgeous food photo is, in the end, as tasteless as the paper it’s printed on. Please don’t try to smell it or lick it. Bleyah!

When you take your next trip, don’t forget to smell where you are. You can “see” where you’ve been with the snapshots you take. You can “hear” the noise of downtown and the silence of the desert with your videos. You can almost recreate the food with recipes and ingredients available everywhere these days, thanks to the internet. But, alas, you cannot recreate the tropical aroma of Hawaii, the humid, human inner city squalor smells in parts of Bangladesh, or India, or, say, downtown Los Angeles. And best of all, you have to stop and make yourself present in the moment to experience a smell. You can use a photograph and videos as memory cheats for scenes and sounds. But you can’t cheat your nose. It won’t let you! At least not yet.

“Memories, imagination, old sentiments, and associations are more readily reached through the sense of smell than through any other channel.” – Oliver Wendell Holmes












Feeling All the Feels

Poet imageIt’s a scary place to go–down there in the dark with no net of busyness to protect us from falling into the pool below, where feeling all the feels is worse than the bottom of a wishing well where we keep throwing pennies, hoping for whatever.

We don’t dare lower ourselves in the bucket to pick them back out because we may have to act on the wishes and, oh heck…feel all the feels. The truth is in the mirror at the bottom of the well, right above the pile of pennies. And so it’s easier not to go there at all. Or is it?


As Alive as a Tin Cup

As Alive as a Tin Cup

With the fire crackling in the fireplace across from us, my friend said, “I don’t think I ever told you. I am a tin cup.”

“A what?”

“A tin cup. Like the movie with Kevin Costner, but not at all,” he said, staring into the lovely heat.

“I play golf, but I’m not the ball or the club. Or the bag,” he said, a wistful look in his eyes.

“I’m the tin cup catching putts. It’s a hobby.  Sometimes I move the cup just a hair for golfers I like. I’ve also been known to jiggle a little to get the ball to go in.”

“And if you don’t like them?”

“Same thing. Either way, I’m always ready to help or hurt.”

I nodded. Shook my head. Nodded.

“But I have to be very quiet, and I can’t let the cameras ever detect it,” he continued.

“I’ll bet!”

“I’ll never forget this one time, though. My two friends were working as blades of grass that day and they were questioned by a golfer one. It was ugly.”


“Yes. But I wouldn’t call it questioned. More accurately they were cussed at to the high heavens. Both of them had to go to therapy.”

“Oh, I didn’t know they had that.”

“Yesirree. Golf has more therapists than any other sport.”

“I wasn’t aware of that either.”

“It’s the truth.”

The fire had died by then. We sat in the dark and I wondered what I would like to be for my second job. If only I had a better imagination, I could be a writer.

                  Thinking about it.


Hidden Not-For-Everyone Society

A man and his girlfriend hiking in the mountains purposefully ignore the trail signs to find a private place where no one would disturb them.

“We might get lost,” the woman says.

“I’m hoping we do,” he says, winking.

In exactly five more steps behind a rock that does not appear to have space behind it, they find themselves looking down onto a small city, almost like one of those planned community architectural model towns. The homes are neatly laid out on a grid of clean and orderly streets. The couple sees no cars. Bicycles come and go. Tiny people (from their vantage point) walk with purpose but do not seem to be rushed.

“Where are we again?” the woman says. Her name is Cynthia.

“I am not sure. I didn’t think there were any cities in this area. There weren’t any on Google Maps,” he says. His name is Joel.

“This doesn’t look right. I think we should turn around and try to find our way back. It’s getting late,” Cynthia says.

Joel looks over the rock to his left. The city spreads about a mile west, with small buildings that might be an industrial area of sorts. “I want to see it. Don’t you?”

“No,” Cynthia says, unhappy that this place didn’t appear on a map. What is it? A government testing place like Area 51? Or is it a bomb manufacturing city or an experimental site for crazy people that the government doesn’t want anybody to know about? “I’d rather go home.”

“Fine. I’ll get you back to the trail, and you can follow the signs. The paths back to the trailhead are very clearly marked. You still have hours of light left. And we saw people along the way. You’ll be fine.”

Cynthia is a bookkeeper. Her gift is her attention to detail and unfailing willingness to follow the rules, stay within the coloring lines, and have all her companies’ accounts balanced at the end of each day. It also means that hiking alone scares the lavender drops out of her deodorized panty liners. “I’ll come with you.”

After thirty minutes of switchback paths down to the little city, Joel and Cynthia are making their way down what looks like the main street in the town. “The people here are weird,” Cynthia says quietly to Joel as they walk. “I feel like I’m in the Twilight Zone or something. They’re staring at us, and no one is smiling. It’s like they’re afraid of us.”

“Yeah. We’ll just grab something to eat and drink and leave. Here,” Joel says, opening the swinging door to a small mom-and-pop type café that looks like something out of the 1950s.

They sit down at a booth.

“Can we see a menu, please?”

“We don’t have printed menus. But I can tell you what we have for lunch today,” the waitress says. She seems a little distant as she takes their order for burgers and fries, one of the two blue-plate specials for the day. “Oh, about your drinks? We don’t carry sodas,” she adds. “I can bring you some ice water.”

“That’s fine.”

As Joel scans the café, he notices it is more like a meeting place than a coffee shop. Some of the tables have blackboards and chalk. One wall is covered by a whiteboard with an odd list like the following, of which there are several.

Manufacturing – Bob B.

Farming – Sandie S.

Baking – David A.

Technology – Alayna R.

Teaching – All

Clothing – All


“Look at those,” Joel says, also remarking to himself that they are the only customers in the coffee shop.

“Yes. I wonder what it means,” Cynthia says, also noting the emptiness.

The waitress approaches the table and puts down the burgers, fries, and waters.

“We’re in a hurry,” Joel says. “I hope this covers it. Keep the change,” he adds magnanimously.

She looks down at the $20 bill Joel left on the table “Sir. We don’t accept cash here.”

“Oh. Here’s my card,” he says.

“No, sir, we operate on credits. But since it’s clear you’re from out of town, we will ask you to leave something of yours that we can use.”

“Huh? Like what?” Joel says.

“Like a book or some paper or clothes. We can use almost anything. A pen. A water bottle. Sunglasses. A hat. Anything.”

“Wait,” Joel says. “Are we in the United States of America?”

“Yes. Geographically, but philosophically, we differ from all that has come to represent America and the economy.”

“Joel,” Cynthia says, “I have a book in my backpack.” I can leave it here and get another one when we return.” She tugs her backpack zipper open and pulls out the novel she was reading before they left on their hike. “Here you go, Miss.”

“No, Cyn. Don’t leave it. I want to see what happens if we don’t leave anything. Will they arrest us?”

The waitress turns and walks to the door of the café, looks up the street, and sees one of the other townspeople. “Please find Zen or Steve.”

She returns to the couple and says, “You’re free to do what you’d like. We will not arrest you. But we will ask that you not mention this visit to anyone back where you live.”

“And if I do?”

“We hope you don’t,” a woman says, coming in the door with a man who might look like Jesus, depending on whose picture one believes.

Joel is even more curious. “What the heck is this place? Are we still in the United States?” he asks the new people, as he had before.

“Yes. We have taken ourselves out of the latest problems and found solutions by creating a society where everyone contributes. There are no handouts, and where we minimize our carbon footprint in every way we can.”

Joel’s eyes drift to the whiteboard to see the lists again, and then he refocuses on the man and woman.

“My name is Steve,” the man says. “This is my partner, Zen.”

“I’m Cynthia, but you can call me Cyn. This is Joel,” she says.

“And my name is Zila,” the waitress says. “But most folks call me Zee.”

“But how do you manage without cars and fuel and lights?” Joel says.

“We use the sun for our electricity; we have bicycles. Our warmth comes from the stored sun, and we eat off the land. Whatever we can grow, we eat. Whatever we cannot grow, we don’t eat. It’s pretty simple.”

“What if no one is a farmer?”

“We generally invite people here that are excited to learn new trades and want to live a simple, unencumbered, creative life. Many people enjoy applying their old knowledge to something new. An electrical engineer tries their hand at baking. If they like it, they stick with it. If they don’t, they move on, and we see if someone else wants to try it. No one is forced to do something that doesn’t fulfill them. Life is too short.”

“That’s crazy good,” Cynthia says. “I’m a bookkeeper and like it, but I’m getting tired of it.” She thinks for a minute. “I’ve always wanted to try my hand at beekeeping.”

Zen smiles. “We have a beekeeper here, but she’s interested in trying something new. She’d be happy to teach you her trade and move on to something else. No one is stuck in their choices.”

“That’s ridiculous,” Joel says. “You have to do something for a long time before you’re any good at it.”

“Not necessarily. The wealth of knowledge in this little town makes it so there is usually someone who can help if you get stuck. And if you make a mistake, you learn something, as does the entire community. Mistakes are growth opportunities.”

Joel doesn’t believe it. He stands abruptly and walks past the couple to open the door. He looks up and down the street. People come and go, waving, nodding, pushing baby carriages, or walking dogs and kids here and there.

“Where is the school?” he says.

“There’s a building that serves as a school, but for the most part, kids teach themselves with the proper guidance.”

“That’s ridiculous!”

“I’ve read about that,” Cynthia says. “The kids are allowed to follow their curiosity to learn what they want. They are allowed to participate in experiments and real-life situations that teach them math and physics, for instance.”

“Not every kid wants to learn that stuff,” Joel says.

“No, but every economy needs tradesmen – builders, electricians, leather workers, and plumbers that don’t have medical aptitude, but can contribute plenty to the society.” Cynthia reads widely, listens to podcasts on her walks, and belongs to several nonprofit groups that seek to preserve the earth, celebrate people’s gifts, and maximize developmental collaborations.

Joel regards Cynthia, seeing a new side of her. Mild-mannered bookkeeper becomes cutting-edge eco-scientist. “What the fuck, Cyn?”

“I’d like to stay,” she says to Zen and Steve. The waitress Zee shakes her head imperceptibly.

“We appreciate your enthusiasm,” Zen says. “But we are a real democracy. We will vote. Everyone sixteen and above votes. Then, you will have a trial period because you may decide it’s not right for you and you’re not right for us. You understand, don’t you?”

“Yes, absolutely.”

“But, what about me?” Joel says.

“You drank some of our water with your burgers and fries. We will get you back to the trail where you found us, but just about the time you arrive there, you will forget everything you saw, including any memory of Cynthia.”

Joel grabs Cynthia’s wrist, yelling, “We’re leaving. They can’t…”

But they do.

And Cynthia stays a long time trying her hand at beekeeping, baking, and beer brewing. She’s found her happy place.

OMG… GTD Quotes — Day Three

Poet image


“The one important thing I have learned over the years is the difference between taking one’s work seriously and taking one’s self seriously. The first is imperative and the second is disastrous.” ~ Margot Fonteyn

A corollary is “Life is too important to be taken seriously.” ~ Oscar Wilde. (Note some sources say it’s not his quote, but it’s close.

From playwrights in the 1800s (Wilde) to ballerinas in the 1900s ( Fonteyn), there is agreement on not taking life or ourselves too seriously.

I say, we aren’t as important as we think we are.

I can hear you saying, “What? That’s not true! I’m very important.”

Okay. But I like when I have the clarity to realize I’m overindulging in my own importance. I’m much better off if I can tap into “the wisdom to know the difference” about the things I can and can’t control. THAT’s from the Serenity Prayer–another favorite.

Some days are better than others.

OMG… GTD Quotes — Day Two

“I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve (or save) the world and a desire to enjoy (or savor) the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.” ― E. B. White


I like this quote too. It’s from Page 79 of Ready for Anything, but it’s such a lovely way to bisect one’s world, and gain a perspective that is so easy lose in the busy-ness and doing-ness that define today’s culture.

More on being and doing later. In the meantime, I think this E.B. White quote rocks.

“Who is E.B. White?” you ask.  E.B. White (you will find from this website) has written some of the most wonderful children’s books of all time. Charlotte’s Web, Stuart Little, and more.