Leech Sock it to me!

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‘If you thought the Amazon had some scary parts, just wait till you hear about Borneo’

Yeah, yeah, I know I’m dating myself when I use terms like “sock it to me” in my stories. But hey, I’m a Woman of a Certain Age with a Certain Television History, which includes not only Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In (of “sock it to me” fame) but Hullabaloo and That Was The Week That Was.

But this isn’t a piece about TV. (Though in a sec or two you’ll probably wish it was). I referenced those shows to explain my title and to admit to the fact that I have, as they say, been around the block a time or two.

One of the last times I went around the block — to Starbucks — they got my name amusingly wrong

I’ve also been to Guyana, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, to the Amazon (twice) and to Panama (five times, but who’s counting — besides me?)

But never — ever — while reading the materials one is sent in preparation for said trips have I stumbled upon a passage like this one:

“Beware of loose netting in sleeves, backs, pockets, or pant legs that could allow leeches to crawl in. You may want to bring a pair of leech socks or buy some in Borneo.”

Leech socks”?!? “My stars and garters!” she exclaimed, continuing her Geezer-phrase sock-theme, “what’s this about leeches?!?” (BTW, the socks in the photo at the top of this post are most definitely not leech socks. They are parakeet socks.)

Another photo of the parakeet socks. Cause I’m sure as heck not going to show you any leeches — or leech socks, for that matter

See, my experience with leeches has never been an up-close-and-personal one. I’m more of an “I remember them from that scene in The African Queen” kind of person.

Our floating home on the Amazon, seen here with seaplane at the ready, was up quite a notch or three from The African Queen

And what I remember about leeches from that movie isn’t good. But our trusty trip materials went on to say that leeches “most commonly crawl through loosely-woven material, like socks” and that “leech socks are worn over one’s regular socks and tied at the calf or knee”, that they “keep leeches from penetrating, thus causing them to crawl up instead onto your pants, where you can see them.”

Another picture not of leeches or their socks. Here is a checkered foot instead. With a nifty checkered-floor background

Oh. Okay. Then what?

“You can usually feel them inching along; they can be rolled into a ball and flicked off before they can really attach.”

Um. May I ask who will be doing this “rolling” and “flicking” — of leeches?

Oh, wait. There is an alternative: “Touching their bodies with a bar of repellent will cause them to loosen and drop off.” (I’m so buying a “bar of repellent” — at any price.)

Let me take a small Leech Break to show you what, up until now, has been the scariest thing I’ve encountered on one of these trips. I didn’t have to roll anything “into a ball and flick it”, but I did kind of roll myself into a ball while clutching my armrests for dear life:

The Leech Section of our trip materials concluded by stating that “all in all, their repulsive reputation has been exaggerated.” (Not by me!) And by saying that “if you do get bitten, however, their anticoagulant can cause persistent bleeding. You may want to carry a styptic pencil to curtail the bleeding; a small supply of Band-Aids can protect your clothing.”

Oh. Right, I feel so much better now. I wonder if it’s too late to get back on that seaplane.

New York City. (Not Borneo. Not yet, anyway.) January 2020

 

 

 

Birders gotta bird

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‘Even if it’s from a rooftop, waiting out a plane delay’

Today I almost wrote about the trials and tribulations of dealing with a major renovation on a somewhat minor apartment. But just thinking about it was making me exhausted, not to mention bored.

What I wake up at 3 in the morning and think about

So instead I’ll write another story about our last birding adventure — the one where most of the spine-tingling moments happened wondering when and if we’d ever A) get to the birding location, and then B) get home once the trip was over. (See “Paradise Lost” for excruciating detail.)

What I wake up at 4 in the morning and think about

See, we’ve been on a bunch of these birding trips, but this was the first time we had any problem with the to-ing and the fro-ing. Still, the inbetween-ing was pretty sweet.

What I wake up at 5 in the morning and actually do — at least on these trips

When we had trouble getting to where we wanted to go (this was at the beginning of the trip), our intrepid guide sort of whipped up a bird-bedecked alternative. This was where we got to cross the Amazon — a river that is so wide it makes the Mighty Mississippi look more like Mighty Mouse — in a boat that I wouldn’t trust to go water-skiing on good ole Carlyle Lake. (Note: there is no bridge across the Mighty Amazon; a boat is one’s only choice.)

Mighty Amazon, at the point where the “black water” meets the “white water”. And I almost meet my Maker (or so I worried)

We crossed so that we could spend a day on the Tupana River, an unscheduled stop, but well worth our while — and worth our chances of getting dumped in the Amazonian Drink.

The Yellow Circle marks our unscheduled spot: the Rio Tupana

Of course, after we had our fun we had to retrace our steps, including getting on another boat that was, in my opinion, too small for comfort. But nobody asked my opinion, so I just clung to my life jacket and thought about Other Things. Like new kitchen cabinets.

Incidentally, we got grounded another day. So what did we do? Check out the photo at the top of this post and you’ll see. Yup, birders gotta bird. Even if it’s from the roof of the airport hotel, standing on fake wicker pool chairs. (Out of view: a bunch of befuddled spandex-sporting German tourists.)

Eventually, Intrepid Guide Man gave up on Bad Local Airline and chartered us a plane so we could get to where we were supposed to go. (And see more than airport-hotel-area birds.)

We finally make it to Sao Gabriel and the Rio Negro

We hung around Sao Gabriel just one day instead of the planned three. But, secretly, I was pleased. Because instead of staying at a decidedly-local-color-infused “hotel” in the center of bustling Sao Gabriel, we got to decamp to our floating hotel, the Untamed Amazon. Which was so luxurious — and such a welcome contrast to the Hotel Deus Me Deu, bless its little heart:

Of course, not every second spent on the Rio Marie was so relaxing. There were the two days we (or at least The Dude and I) got up at 3 so we could track down the Nocturnal Whatnot. Which we did find, but could not photograph. Because it was night. Or at least 3:30 in the morning, which is the same diff. And there was the time we chopped our way upriver (or our faithful local guides did), African Queen style:

Well, it’s getting late, and I need to get back to obsessing about bath vanities. Tonight I’m hoping I’ll wake up thinking about the time we stopped smack-dab in the middle of the godawfully-wide Amazon River to take pictures of the Meeting of the Waters.

It’ll make a welcome change from grout.

New York City. January 2020

Paradise Lost

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’It’s true: you can’t go home again’

The Amazon Basin is truly a magical place. Though I wish its magic extended to beaming us home with a wave of a palm-frond wand. The name of the tour we are on (or just ended, depending on how you want to look at it) is “Paradise Revisited”. Our guide told us it had something to do with how they used to visit this part of the Amazon in the Good Old Days, then stopped when air service got spotty. Or maybe it was because once you see the Amazon, you just have to go back. Or something else travel-romantic like that.

The Rio Marie. Sigh. Tempting to go back, for sure

But I’m betting on the spotty air service theory, since that’s what we encountered at the beginning of our Adventure. We went to the airport three times (two of which were failures) in order to fly from Manaus to this remote spot on the Rio Negro called Sao Gabriel da Cachoeira. We were there so much that we teased our guide by suggesting the tour be renamed “Airport Revisited”. Turned out that the airline (MAP) that was to fly us there got bought by some bigger outfit and all its planes in this neck of Brazil (not just ours) got rerouted to more profitable airspaces.

But Mr. Enterprising Guide pulled a charter flight rabbit out of his hat and got us there (finally).

Our accommodations in Downtown Sao Gabriel. Once we got there, that is. Sorry for cutting off your head, Dude. But it wasn’t me who took this picture

This is where the Good Part comes in. After one night (was supposed to have been three) in Sao Gabriel, we were whisked by small boat to a much larger boat that was vastly different from our Amazonian Vessel of Two Years Ago, the Tambira.

Our “Minnow”, the Tambira

If the Tambira was the African Queen, the Untamed Amazon was the Queen Mary. Not only did it have air conditioning and (gasp) hot water, but it had an amazing chef, a masseuse (we never once used her services, poor thing), and a wonderfully well-stocked wine-and-liquor cabinet. (We were served Veuve Cliquot on Christmas Eve.)

Our floating hotel, the Untamed Amazon, beckoning us with food and drink after a hard days’ birding

Toasting our Christmassy good fortune on board the Untamed Amazon

We spent five marvelous days onboard this floating hotel, taking birding excursions in smaller boats two or three times daily. (Wayne and I were part of the smaller, more intrepid band that left two mornings in a row at 3:30 to stalk the Nocturnal Curassow. Yes, we found it, though I don’t have a picture; it wasn’t light out enough for photos when we found it.)

But then, alas, it came time to depart. Which we did in marvelously exciting style — by seaplane. The Dude had been in a seaplane before; in fact, he had even flown one. But, for me, it was a new experience, and it certainly did not fail to deliver excitement.

Happy Me, excited (and very sweaty) in the Actual Untamed Amazon

I’m writing this post from the very same airport hotel where we spent three nights at the beginning of our Adventure waiting for a plane. And guess what we’re doing? Yup. Waiting for a plane. Turns out our flight from Manaus was cancelled last night. We’re leaving tonight instead — or at least I hope so.

Sunrise on one of the Nocturnal Curassow Search mornings

There are six of us, and we all have connections tomorrow in Miami. Maybe we can have a slumber party somewhere in whatever airport hotel American Airlines sticks us tonight. Because, hey, we’re all in the same boat. Er, plane.

All of us. In the same boat — in more ways than one

Manaus, Brazil. December 2019

 

The Gate Nazi at JFK

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’Forced Bag Check. Even worse, forced Caroling’

I didn’t take a picture of the Gate Nazi (I was way too intimidated to try), though in retrospect I probably should have. Instead I am showing you a picture of where we went so you can see that the bullying we experienced at the very start of our Amazonian Adventure was worth it.

The scene at the top of this post is of a river trip taken on the afternoon of the first day we arrived in Brazil — yes, less than 24 hours after stepping on a plane in New York, we were seated on a small boat on a small tributary of a medium tributary of a larger tributary of the mighty Amazon River. The miracles of air travel are definitely worth every agonizing moment along the way. Even the agonizing moment I’m about to tell you.

Another small-boat moment. Crossing the Amazon, where the White Water meets the Black. Called, natch, “The Meeting of the Waters”

We were nice and early at our gate, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and eager to start. We had planned to carry our duffels and backpacks on board, in fear of losing our gear. (Clothes don’t matter on these trips; it’s all about the gear. I found this out the hard way on our first trip, to Kenya. I came down to dinner in a cute little sundress, much to the amusement of our birding cohort.)

The Dude and our current birding cohort confer with our guide

So there we were, chilling in our birder outfits, complete with hiking boots, when the gate agent starts in over the loudspeaker: “This is a very old-fashioned plane,” she announced, “the kind your Grandma used to take. And there are very old-fashioned storage bins. They are not made for new-fangled modern bags. If you have one of those big modern bags, you’ll have to check it here at the gate. It is complementary. Just bring it up and we will check it through to your final destination.”

Well, we ignore her, since our canvas LL Bean duffels are not what one would call “new-fangled” or even “modern”.

Then she announced, “This plane is going to be very very full. (She wasn’t kidding; it was.) In addition to new-fangled modern bags, we are going to have to check every bag if you are in Group 9.” We consulted our boarding passes; not Group 9. We go back to reading emails.

Then she started roaming around the gate, pointing at bags, seemingly randomly, and insisting they be checked. Again, we ignore her.

Me, after two hours’ sleep, out on the Tupano River, dressed similarly to the way I was the night before at Gate D12

She gets to us, and something about the cut of our respective jibs or the fact that we were dressed in hiking gear instead of sparkly tops and sweatpants must have irked her because she stops and says, “Those bags will have to be checked.” I explained that they did indeed fit in the overhead bins, that we had stowed them many times thusly. But she was having none of it. ”You must check them.”

What could I do? She, as Gate Agent, had complete and total power over who got on that plane, and how. (I say “I” because Dude Man was over in the snack bar seeking pre-flight sustenance.) My reasonable pushback on checking our duffels was having no effect, so I tried asking if we could check them to Miami, where we had a layover. (At least that might minimize the risk of holiday-season baggage misplacement.) Nothing doing. “You must check them through to your final destination.” Big sigh. But rules are rules, I guess. And Gate Nazi was unmovable.

(Later, after we were seated on the plane, we saw many other much bigger bags go trundling by our seats. Oh well, not everyone is charmed by my winningly persuasive personality. Or so it seems.)

Dude Man doing his Dude Thing less than 24 hours later

Miss Grab-The-Mike-And-Make-Loud-Announcements, heady with power, then proclaimed that no one would be able to board the plane unless he or she “gave her a big smile”. She meant it, too. I saw her accost the Boarding-Pass-Scanning Lady and tell her that a hapless wheelchair passenger couldn’t board unless she smiled. With teeth.

Our guide (and a local dog) demonstrate a wild-animal trap. Part of me wants to set it up outside Gate D12

But wait — there’s more. Then, she grabbed the mike and insisted that we all sing Jingle Bells. We thought surely she must be kidding, but no. Nurse-Ratchet-Disguised-As-A-Gate-Agent started singing, and when we didn’t immediately chime in, exhorted, “I can’t hear you!”

So, jingling all the way, we dashed not through the snow but through the throngs onto the plane and into the night.

“Oh what fun it is to ride”, it seems, does not apply to American Airlines.

The Dude in his element. More adventures coming soon, internet willing

Manaus, Brazil. December 2019

A Sterling character

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‘A Ray of Sunshine brightens the road home’

I really should be sorting scarves and/or dredging out drawers, but this morning I woke up (heck, make that “sat up”, since I wasn’t actually asleep) with a horrendous head cold and I need a bit of a break from the utter sturm und drang of this whole business of getting-ready-to-sell-an-apartment-in-New-York.

See, it’s no longer a simple deal of making your bed and putting away the cat toys. No, these days you must stage your apartment — make it easy for your potential buyer to imagine that he or she lives there instead of you. Everything personal must go: the collection of shells and beach glass arrayed on the mantel, the foreign stamps stuffed in a hand-thrown pot with a red heart on the front, the carefully-curated display of evening bags on the hat rack in the bedroom. Even the framed photos of The Child and her cousins taken at various stages of precocity, from being dressed as pumpkins to being garbed in grad gowns — it all must be erased.

I can’t show you any of those things — they have been erased — but I can show you this collection of Henrys

I cleverly “gifted” a batch of framed photos featuring The Child’s cousins to the Cousins in Question present at my Mom’s Big Birthday Do. Which got me some puzzled looks as well as nice thank-yous. (I doubt that Young People are as “into” framed photos as People My Age, which is no doubt why I was urged to make them go away.)

A trio of Henrys shares a laugh, maybe over how hilarious it is that their cousin has to downsize

But, as they say, all good things must come to an end — from our run in the Apartment of 26 Years to my Mom’s Big Birthday Do.

A batch of Henrys bids good-bye to the Phil branch that had to snap off early

For more about what happened at the party before it (*sniff*) came to its cake-crumbs-on-the-floor and wine-dreggs-in-the-glassware end, check out last week’s story, “So far, so good”.

And as for the end itself? My branch of the Henry Family Tree, all three twigs of it, was one of the first to leave on Sunday morning. Very early Sunday morning. Too early, in fact. Which should come to no surprise to those who know me. I’m one of those get-to-the-airport-early people. Once I allowed four hours to get to JFK for a 10AM flight to Bonaire. When we got to our gate at 7, I thought my family was going to suffocate me with a plastic bag.

The driveway that led to the road that led to the highway that led to O’Hare

Well, this trip I was worried about returning the rental car and about catching the shuttle to get to our respective terminals. (I’d been told to allow two hours for this.) Well, turns out the only two hours involved here was the two hours too early that we got there.

But hey. I promised a Ray of Sunshine, did I not? When we scampered to the Place Where You Catch the Shuttles, there was a shuttle, ready and waiting. But it served Terminal 1, where the Kids were going, and not Terminal 3, where I was headed. The Child and her BF and I were engaged in a heartfelt goodbye hug on the sidewalk when we hear a booming voice over the shuttle loudspeaker:

“This shuttle goes to Terminal 1…and to wherever it is that Mom is going!”

The driver, bless his Mom-loving heart, did indeed take all the now-very-smiley passengers to Terminal 1, where they all nodded and wished me well as they disembarked with their wheelies and whatnots. Then Sterling — for that was his name — took me, all by my lonesome, off to Terminal 3.

“Here you go, Mom,” he said, “Have a nice flight!”

And so I did.

Lake Michigan, looking just about as sparkly as Sterling’s soul

New York City. October 2019

 

 

 

French Lick, the WaWa Goose, and the Oregon Trail

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‘Summer vacations, Midcentury Midwestern Style’

The Child is on Day 18 of her solo hike of the John Muir Trail. The JM is a 200-mile section of the Pacific Crest Trail, which runs from Canada to Mexico. Her Childness started in Yosemite National Park a couple of weeks ago and will finish in three or four more days at Mt. Whitney.

Here she was on Day 13. Well, here is where the satellite said she was, anyway

We’re not too panicky, since we can track her via GPS. And sometimes, when she has cell service, she calls or texts. She even Facetimed us from the top of Half Dome.

The Child Instagrams from Half Dome, where there were still a few people. Unless those are bears in disguise

Now, I’m glad (sort of) that she’s doing this. But I must say that this kind of trip is certainly not my cup of tea. The blisters and bears and dehydrated food and being alone for hours at a time wouldn’t bother me so much. (In fact, I rather like being alone.)

Nope. It’s the sleeping outside part that’s the deal-breaker for me. Let me explain.

The Child’s home away from home. A veritable trailside Hilton

See, when I was a kid, when we took a family vacation, we drove. We didn’t know anybody who took planes. For one thing, back in those days taking a plane with a family with at least three kids (and ultimately five) was way too pricey. At least for families like mine.

Trains were on the expensive side too, though I remember taking one once from Memphis to Chicago. That was the trip where Middle Brother Roger (who was the youngest at the time) sat on a fancy lady’s lap and asked her why she had a string of dead squirrels around her neck. (It was, in fact, a mink stole, and she didn’t even get mad, he was so adorable.)

Surly Teen Me, with Laura and Roger, on a rare trip that (I think) did not involve sleeping outside. We went, for some reason, to French Lick, Indiana, and stayed in an old resort at the hot springs. (Oldest Younger Brother Scott snapped the photo)

And when we were on these driving vacations, we didn’t stay in motels. (See same reason given for not flying, above.) Nope, we slept outside. Well, not outside-outside, exactly. We stayed in a popup camper. (See our Nimrod in the photo at the top of this post.) In those days these things were too hot or too cold, mosquitoes (and little kids) whined around inside, and when it rained the canvas leaked.

Once in a while on a road trip, we wouldn’t even bother with the Nimrod. Dad would just pull over by the side of the road and we kids would grab some Zs on a mattress that was back in the cargo area of the Ford station wagon. (But, hey, at least it wasn’t outside.)

Getting ready to hit the road back home to Memphis after visiting the Peterson relatives in Northern Illinois. At least our luggage is on top, and the mattress is in the back

We drove and camped our way to Colorado, a trip I associate with the aroma of Alberto VO5. (It was super-hot in the car, no automotive AC available in those days, and the goop had liquefied. Younger Only Sister Laura, who was a mere tot at the time, had been playing with the jar and spilled its contents.)

Regardless of the smell, I also remember walking in the wagon ruts of the Oregon Trail and being amazed by the vastness of the Badlands. Great Mom Quote: “Just think, the early settlers rode in their covered wagons straight into the sun for months at a time — and they didn’t even have sunglasses.

A couple of good kids (Scott and me) out in the Badlands

We drove and camped our way to Canada, too, a trip I associate with instant mashed potatoes “cooked” on a Coleman Stove and with “toasting” rinsed diapers on a stick held over a campfire. Heady times. I also recall a side trip to see the WaWa Goose. And I will never forget driving over the Mackinac Bridge, which is the longest bridge in the Western Hemisphere and the source of many a nightmare of mine to this very day. 

Dinner in the “dining room” — a tent that attached to the front of the Nimrod

Basically, though, these family trips were a lot of fun and made memories to last a lifetime. But I did promise myself that when I grew up I would never ever sleep outside again. And I haven’t.

Not even on the Upper Reaches of the Amazon River did I sleep outside. We had no hot water, but we did have real beds in that boat there in the background

Amagansett, New York. August 2019

The time my (Austin) America let me down

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‘In the middle of my twenties in the middle of Missouri in the middle of the night

Oh, and if that weren’t enough “middles”, it was also in the middle of a rainstorm.

But before I start my exciting tale of alone-by-the-roadside automotive woe, let me tell you exactly what it was that sparked this sodden, scary memory.

See, The Child is in her fourth day of a three-week hike along the John Muir Trail in California. It’s 200+ miles through High Sierra wilderness — and she is doing it alone.

The Child, on top of Half Dome, at the end of her first day on the John Muir Trail. Fingers crossed that a bear did not take this photo

A view of The Child and her 47-pound pack, pre-hike

The Dude and The Child’s friends, not being mothers, are all “wow!” and “isn’t this exciting!” and “good for you!“, while I am all “but there are bears” and “must you do this alone?” Trying to reassure me, The Child said, “But I’ll be running into other people on the trail all the time“, and I said, “That’s what I’m afraid of.”

The Dude and I out on a trail in the wilderness. But with other people. And rum

Like I say, I could relate to being in my twenties and taking a trip by myself. Though mine wasn’t on the John Muir Trail, but on I-70, which is the interstate highway that I would drive from Kansas City, Missouri, where I was living at the time, to Carlyle, the small town in Illinois where I grew up.

Me with my Dad at about the time of this story. We look pretty hot and sweaty, so this must have been a summer visit

I lived in Kansas City for close on to seven years, and made that drive so many times it became easy-peasy routine. Except for this one time.

On this particular trip, I was driving my Austin-America. No, no, not the Aston Martin, which is that James Bond car. And not even the Austin-Healey, which Wikipedia says Helen Mirren drives. No, the Austin-America was a British car that was supposed to be a competitor to the VW Beetle, but wasn’t nearly as sleek, as sexy, or as reliable. Tiny, boxy, and (in my case) brown, it was probably the clunkiest car ever to park in a driveway. (Ever wonder why it is that you park in a driveway, but drive on a parkway?)

How I happened to have this car is a pretty interesting story in itself. I bought it for $800 cash from a woman who was saving up so she could flee from her abusive husband. And how did I know this woman? I worked with the husband.

I showed up, as instructed, when the hub wasn’t home. She took me in the kitchen, where I handed over 800 one-hundred dollar bills. After counting them carefully, she folded those bills and hid them inside a Ritz Cracker box, which she then put back in its spot on the shelf.

You wouldn’t be lonely for long if you broke down in the middle of this highway. Though probably no one would stop to actually help you

Me, I walked out with the keys to the Austin-America. Which I drove without major incident (except this one time I’m going to tell you about) until it finally conked out a few years later. When it did, it had absolutely no trade-in value, though I briefly considered turning it into a planter or maybe a bus shelter. It did get great gas mileage — so great I probably only had to fill it once. Which was fortunate because, among other things, the driver’s side window wouldn’t roll down. Which meant I had to speak to the gas station attendant through the little flip-out wing window.

Anyway. Back to the “major incident”.

I was driving back to KC after visiting my parents. I’d lingered a bit too long in Carlyle, probably enjoying another slice of my mother’s excellent banana bread, and got a late start. So late that, when it started pouring — and in the Midwest, if it starts pouring, we mean pouring; like some Rain God is emptying a giant pitcher over your car and everything around it — it was, like, three in the morning.

I’m soldiering along though, not tired one bit, squinting through the sheets of water slashing my windshield, trying to keep my spirits up by listening to Top-40 Radio KXOK, when the car starts slowing…and slowing some more. Before it can coast to a stop, I wisely steer it to the shoulder. Where I sit. What on earth is wrong? I wondered. The lights are on, the gas tank is half full.

No one has invented portable phones, much less cellphones, so there is no way to call for help. So I turn off the engine and lock the doors — and sit there.

Me, a few years and a completely different hairstyle later, still living in Kansas City, but now with a Mercedes. And yes, there’s a story there too

This being the middle of the night, there are very few cars on the road, even though it’s an interstate. Where are all those Highway Patrol Guys when you need them? But there are truckers. And, sure enough, after about half an hour a big ole rig pulls up on the shoulder just ahead of me.

I roll down the window as he approaches the car, and explain the situation. “There’s a truck stop up ahead,” he says. “I’ll give you a lift so you can get help.”

I do see a glow of mercury-vapor lights on the horizon, and he didn’t look too terrifying, besides which I didn’t relish the prospect of sitting in a wet car all night, so — bless my heart — I got out and went with him. And sure enough, as he boosted me up to the truck’s cab, he says, “You know, I’ve got a bed in back. You’re welcome to stay here if you want.”

Gulp. I can’t remember now how I managed to gracefully get out of that one, but he did indeed take me to the truck stop where a helpful mechanic listened to my story and goes, “Oh, one of them little Brit cars, eh? They’ve got their engines mounted sideways. Which means the alternator can get wet when it rains as bad as this. You just wait till it stops. It’ll dry out, and you can drive it on home.”

Which I did. And, trust me, I never drove that car in the rain again. Not even in a sprinkle.

But back to The Child. So far, she’s shown pretty good judgment, so I just have to cross my fingers and trust that she’ll be safe out there on the Trail all alone. At least I can console myself with the thought that it’s highly unlikely she’ll run into any truckers, helpful or otherwise.

Amagansett, New York. July 2019

Nope. It’s not the sport with the pointy orange ball

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‘I become a Blazers Fan. For a few days, anyway.’

There’s a scene in a Woody Allen movie where Woody’s character is making nervous small talk with a woman on their first date. He asks her what her favorite sport is and she says “swimming.” “Swimming?” he sputters. “Swimming? Swimming isn’t a sport. Basketball is a sport. Swimming is what you do when the boat sinks.”

My Mom, ready to swim. ‘Cause it looks like that raft’s ready to sink

Well, I was always kinda with the date on this one. I’ve never been that into team sports. Not even when I was at the University of Missouri, which was, and probably still is, a Big Football School (Mel Gray and John Matuszak ate in my cafeteria). I used to gamely sit in the bleachers with my eventually-to-be-First-Husband-the-Frat-Boy, guarding my nylons from splinters, corsage pinned to my insubstantial breast. Surreptitious sips of Mad Dog 20/20 helped. Sort of.

That was the sport with the pointy orange ball. As for basketball and its bouncy round orange ball (see an example in the photo at the top of this post, being held, pre-bounce, by The Child), I actually got off to a good start, playing H-O-R-S-E with my brothers around the hoop perched over our driveway. But then my bros got so they didn’t want to play with “girls” — or, to be fair, maybe it was me who didn’t want to play with “boys” — at any rate, around sixth grade it was no more H-O-R-S-E. And for me, no more basketball.

Me, at about the age when I thought I was too cool for H-O-R-S-E

There was plenty of basketball at my high school, but only boys played it. If you were a girl, basketball meant trying out for cheerleader. And, not only was I totally inept at the fancy footwork involved in “cheering” (have you ever tried to do a cartwheel?) but I simply wasn’t the Cheerleader Type. I mean, I was reasonably attractive and all, but cheerleaders had cute little figures and were perky and bouncy. I didn’t have a perky bouncy bone in my lanky gawky body.

But hey. I was cute enough to snag a hunky prom date. A date who was on the basketball team, I’ll have you know. (Yes, I made that dress)

So. Where was I going with this? Ah, the Blazers. Actually, they are called the Portland Trail Blazers. And, not to get all sportscaster on you, but when I was out west visiting my Mom for Mother’s Day, the Blazers just happened to be duking it out with the Denver Nuggets for some Big Championship which would mean they would then vie for the NBA title. (Whew. I feel like I’m channeling Howard Cosell.)

So, of course we watched. And I must admit it was exciting. Maybe not as exciting as swimming for your life because your boat just sank, but exciting nonetheless. There was deft ball handling, cool three-point shot-making, and even — with two brothers playing against each other (the Currys) — Family Drama. Speaking of Family Drama, my Lovely Niece Emma made a video of we three moms (me, my sister, and our mom) noisily getting our Blazers on:

I seem to have a knack for showing up for a Mom Visit when there’s some exciting Big Deal Team Sport Event going on. Like the time I innocently traveled west for my Mom’s birthday, only to find my visit coincided with the Chicago Cubs’ run-up to their history-making World Series victory.

Yup. They won. But we didn’t know this was going to happen when I was visiting. It was pretty tense around that TV

The presidential debates were also on TV — remember Trump looming over Hillary? — but no Henrys seemed to care. It was all about baseball and the Cubs. I did manage to sneak off and watch a debate on my iPad, but basically, that visit was a crash course in baseball’s finer points. (Baseball is the one with the smallish non-pointy white ball.) After watching a few of those playoff games, I was talking “double-play” and “pinch-hitter” and “closer” with the best of the Henrys. I even had a Favorite Player (Javier “Javvy” Baez).

Mom’s Birthday, the year she got gifted a Cubs World Series win

And do I have a Favorite Spectator Sport? Yes indeed. It’s the one played with the small fuzzy yellow ball. Not only are there no teams involved, in my mind there is only one player. And he’s playing right now in the French Open. So, in a weird way it’s good that the Blazers flamed out, since I wouldn’t be able to pay them any mind. Because when Roger Federer is on, everyone else takes second place.

The One and Only Fed at Wimbledon a couple of years ago. I was watching him play while on a flight out to visit — you guessed it — my Mom

Amagansett, New York. May 2019

Strolling The Prom

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‘Yet another trip down my personal Memory Highway’

It might be only a tad wider than a sidewalk, and just over a mile long, but The Seaside Promenade — lovingly dubbed ‘The Prom’ — is jammed with traffic. Memory traffic; for me, that is.

As you Faithful Readers know all too well by now, I was raised, Midcentury-Modern-style, in a small town in the Midwest. It was a nice enough small town, but as it happened, all five of us Henry Kids scattered to the four corners of the country pretty much as soon as we could get our respective acts together.

The small-towny, rather Carlyle-esque house where my parents lived in Seaside

And, a decade or so after the last of their brood flew the coop, our parents too pulled up stakes (I’m dizzy from mixing metaphors here) and relocated to Seaside, Oregon, an unassuming small coastal town that one of my beloved-and-hilarious Younger Brothers immediately christened “Carlyle-by-the-Sea”.

We had an Old Crab or two in Carlyle, too

Similarities? Lutheran Church with coffee hour: check. Library where they forgive an overdue book (or two or five): check. Neighbors who don’t mind if you “drop in”: double check. Plenty of local character(s), too. Carlyle had Skinny Man and Skinny Lady and That Guy Who Rode His Bike Everywhere (when I was a kid, a bike-riding Grownup was definitely considered a “character”); Seaside had Bubble Man. This was a guy who rode a bike-like contraption that spit out bubbles. I never actually saw him, but my brothers swear that he existed.

Just like home: Carlyle HS Buddy Dan drops in on Mom for a Seaside chat

But Seaside has something that Carlyle, even with its Corps-of-Engineers-dam-and-Illinois’-Largest-Lake, just doesn’t have: the Pacific Ocean. And with that Prom running right alongside.

Typical morning, typical weather, atypical view: The Prom on a recent early stroll

My parents loved that Prom. My Mom still gets out there every day (every day when it’s not doing what she calls “sideways rain”, that is) and walks it. Even my Dad, who notoriously hated walking — he would drive to his office when they lived in Carlyle; and his office was literally across the street (“Why don’t you walk, Dad?” “I might want to drive somewhere once I’m there.” “Oh.”) — even my Dad could be induced to give The Prom a stroll now and then. (Though my Mom and I had a sneaking suspicion that he did this so he could sneak a cigarette, speaking of “sneaking”.)

Both Dad and Mom also rode bikes along The Prom. Once a cop stopped Dad because he thought he was riding stolen property. But nope; turned out someone else in Seaside had a bright blue three-wheeler.

One of two identical blue trikes in Seaside. This is the one with my Dad on it

And once when I was on a Prom stroll, I met my Mom coming from the other direction on her (regular, two-wheel) bike. She motioned me to stop. “Hey, there’s a naked couple playing cards right by the window in that motel up ahead,” she stage-whispered. And, sure enough, there was.

The motel where the naked couple were playing cards. Bricked-up doors, but curtains that definitely do open

I’m pretty sure this was the same motel where the lady stayed who kept her horse tethered right outside. But it might have been another one a bit further on. Seaside has dozens of motels, including one boasting of a “Heated Indoor Pool” with water the color of soy sauce. Yes, you can see it through the window.

There’s plenty more to see on The Prom, and not just through windows. There are adorable pail-and-shovel-toting children galore, and hand-holding couples of all ages, most sporting every type of tattoo imaginable (the couples, not the adorable children; though one can’t be sure). And I think it’s a local law that Prom-strollers be accompanied by a cute dog.

Forgot your tattoo? No worries; you can get one here — along with “Free Advice”. My advice? Don’t get a tattoo

There’s this place midway on The Prom called the “Turnaround”, because, well, that’s where all the cars have to turn around, the road ending at the ocean and all. There’s a statue of Lewis and Clark there because that’s where they had to turn around too, the trail ending there and all. (The whole Lewis-and-Clark Thing is fascinating — Cape Disappointment! — remind me to tell you more another time.)

“She had a hat.” Selfie Time at the Turnaround

On any given day, there’s lots going on at the Turnaround. Once The Child and I were the only ones dancing to a street band. And another time my Mom and Favorite Sister and I had to jockey for selfie space with a gaggle of Furries.

Smile and say “fur!” A group of Furries at the Turnaround

But, basically, The Prom, including its Turnaround, is all about the Pacific Ocean and that incredible view. Here, in closing, is a 360 taste. This was shot just a few days ago from the relatively quiet, non-Furry-and-street-band-infested end of The Prom. And already, like everything else I’ve told you about here, it’s a memory.

New York City. May 2019

Song of My Selfie

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‘A Whitman’s Sampler’

“I am large, I contain multitudes.” So sayeth the Internet, no doubt referring to those self-portraits otherwise known as “selfies”. Now I should point out, before I get too carried away with my mangling of Leaves of Grass, that the portrait at the top of this post is not actually a selfie. It may be difficult to imagine in this age of the ubiquitous hand-held device, but there were no cellphones in Seventeenth Century Holland. Though it sure looks as though those burghers are hamming it up for Instagram, doesn’t it?

Twenty-First Century Burgher Selfie. As you can see, I am not immune to the lure of the self-portrait. Even when being run down by a bike messenger

Speaking of hamming it up, I’ve been known to indulge in the odd selfie. In fact, I’ll be peppering this post with a few of my favorites — because why not? Continue reading