Got Baggage?

baggage

I travel quite a bit for both work and pleasure. I am a frequent flier, complete with award miles to spend, TSA Pre-Check benefits, priority boarding with three different airlines, and free checked bags. I have travelled for work for almost seven years, now, and have evolved in my preferences over that time. Originally, I did all “carry-on”. For a few years, I compromised style and comfort for the total inconvenience and sheer hell of dragging my miniscule suitcase everywhere with me. On more than one occasion, I ran from airport gate to gate at a clip so desperate, my roller board didn’t roll so well, and because I was in such a hurry and already burdened with my overstuffed computer bag (backpack), I simply drug it along, on its side behind me. Once, my carry on suitcase teetered off the escalator step, and, failing to simply let go of it, to avoid taking out the folks on the steps below me, I clenched the handle and, ever so slowly, lost my balance until it pulled me down several steps into a heap on the floor. I landed atop my suitcase, at the foot of the escalator, in some airport, somewhere. Seattle, I think. But, because I was all “carry-on”, I never lost my bags. My bags and I always arrived at the same airport at the same time. But, I had to deal with jockeying my way on to the airplane at the earliest point in time in order to secure adequate space in the overhead bins for my “as large as permissible and wholly over packed” roller board bag. Talk about stress! And I made no friends in the boarding area when it came time for my boarding zone to be called.

luggage stuffing

I was at a company meeting in Chicago a few years back, arriving late, exhausted, bags in tow. I met a couple of late arriving co-workers in the elevator and one such co-worker had with him, the largest, orangest, suitcase I have ever seen in my life, accompanied by another orange suitcase, nearly as large, one I would have considered “the largest ever”, before this encounter. Our company meeting was to be only three days. I couldn’t help but comment. My co-worker, a larger than life gay man with a particular way of doing everything, who is oft quoted as saying “sounds like a you problem”, filled me in on his big baggage policy. In his behemoth, orange suitcases, he has room to bring his favorite, down, pillow, from home and all the other creature comforts he cherishes (I didn’t ask for any more details). Life on the road should not equate to compromise, he stated. I nodded. True. How true! Another co-worker, also an adorable gay man, always checks his bag, though more reasonable in size, because he likes to bring “full-size” bottles of shampoo and contact lens solution. “I hate refilling little plastic bottles all the time.” I nodded. Right. How right! Yet another co-worker always checks her bags because she distrusts hotel linens, and, so, packs her own Egyptian cotton linens of an absurd thread count, whenever/wherever she goes. And finally, the shoe diva, a co-worker with an insatiable appetite for very expensive shoes, had an impressively sized, auxiliary, suitcase, checked, of course, for “just shoes”. Suddenly, my life seemed so inadequate, so dismal, so sparse, so compromised; jostling tiny little plastic refillable bottles in their entirely too small quart sized 3-1-1 bag, one pair of “practical shoes” (a synonym for “ugly” in the language of footwear), no work-out clothes, only one bra, no satin pillow case, no favorite bottle of wine, all TSA compliant and a pain in the ass to drag around from gate to gate, terminal to terminal, airplane to airplane, overhead storage bin to overhead storage bin. It was then and there that I began my baggage evolution.

Staff members try to move huge trolley case during Chinese Export Commodities Fair in Guangzhou

I am now the proud owner of my second set of matchy-matchy, wine colored, Samsonites, one slightly smaller than the other, but both, in combination, in volume, close to the largest suitcase I’ve ever seen! Yes, I have already worn one set of suitcases out, we can actually thank a TSA agent in BFE, Montana, for finally busting the zipper on my road-worn suitcase. Why he felt he “had” to search it, I don’t know. What, the next massive terror attack is going to originate at a Tuff Shed size airport in BFE, Montana? I digress.

thanks TSA

In my suitcases, I carry with me, now, every creature comfort I desire; a bottle of wine for every two days I will be away from my wine cellar (which, truthfully, consists of a single, cardboard, box in my garage), corkscrew, and squishable, plastic, stemless, wine glasses, a champagne/large format beer bottle closure, a bar of exquisite dark chocolate, a bag of my favorite cereal, dried apricots, almonds, a cutting board and paring knife, a couple of really cute, plastic bowls, for my cereal yogurt, a coffee-press-coffee-mug, satin pillow cases, fuzzy wuzzy slippers, every pair of shoes/boots I feel I may be in the mood for, multiple sweaters and jackets, work out clothes, athletic shoes and a yoga mat. Once, I even brought dumb bells, when I knew I was going to be in a hotel sans a fitness center and away from home for three consecutive weeks. And I am now, feverishly, on a quest for a small, battery operated, coffee bean grinder.

IMG_3079

For years, like two, I never suffered from the plague called “lost bags”. Every time I got off the plane and headed for the baggage carousel, there were my two wine colored Samsonites with their “Priority” tags affixed, spinning slowly, around the conveyer. In the past year, though, I have arrived a day or so before my luggage on more occasions than I can count. Knock wood, I have not, yet, had my treasured wine-colored bags and cherished contents permanently lost. Does that actually happen?

baggage 4

You may be thinking I have too much stuff, she who supposedly embraces minimalism, and while that may seem the case, I do have everything I need, and plenty of options, too. On too many occasions, when traveling more sparsely packed, I have had to purchase a pair of shoes, tights, slacks, a sweater, toiletries, wine, purses, scarves, and, yes, on more than one occasion, an extra suitcase to haul the new loot home. Now that I am habitually over packed, I am ready for anything. I love spontaneity, and one must be prepared for spontaneity! One must be adequately prepared for spontaneity! You can’t go out target practicing in the boonies in heels and a skirt, you can’t go on an impromptu airboat ride in a business suit, and you can’t go to a fine dining establishment in soiled, holy jeans and a wife-beater. I pack for all occasions. On all occasions.

baggage 2

In a further attempt to avoid arriving with full bags, but minus some, one, critical item, I have taken to buying triplicate of toiletries, hair styling appliances, corkscrews and bottle closures, and such; home use, suitcase, gym bag. I keep little bags of organic, whole, raw almonds EVERYWHERE! My computer bag, my running pack, my suitcases (both), my purse, my gym bag, my desk drawer, my cupboard, of course, in the glove box of my car, and, I believe I saw a bag in the center console of my car, too. I was a Boy Scout leader for over a decade; I embrace preparedness beyond reason. My bags, now, are never quite unpacked. I do immediately remove my clothes, no matter the time of day I return from my trip, and dutifully launder them. I’m not one to keep smelly, dirty clothes, festering in my suitcase. I may need them again, soon, and I’d like them clean and ready to go. Besides, who wants to open a suitcase full of stinky, dirty, clothes three weeks, three months, or three years after they arrived home? I never put my bags in storage, they are always rolling about in my room, always at the ready, always in the way, a constant reminder of the lifestyle I lead.

IMG_3075

Yes, I check my bags, as many as I can, as full as I can possibly pack them. Yes, they have been temporarily lost, but, I still say, it’s all worth the risk. More often than not, I am all comfy at my destination in my fuzzy slippers, sipping a fine glass of wine, or walking about wearing a lovely pair of shoes and an adorable sweater, after a great workout and a hot shower with all my favorite potions and lotions, my industrial quality blow dryer, straightening iron, and curling iron infused with Moroccan argan oil. It’s totally worth the risk. It’s totally worth the effort. It’s totally worth the expense. I finally got tired of a compromised experience, travelling from, living from, a tiny suitcase, week after week, month after month, limiting my risk, limiting my quality of life, while on the road.

baggage 3

I almost always arrive to spend some quality time with someone special to me, only to be greeted with something like, “shit, girl”. Yes, this is my shit. Yes, I’m a girl.

IMG_2600

I have baggage. In the literal sense and in the figurative sense. And don’t we all. For what it’s worth, I manage by baggage pretty well. I can pack my suitcases to precisely fifty pounds, and not an ounce more, I lift them in and out of the trunk of the car by myself, on and off the shuttle bus, and up and down stairs both at home and at some hotels where the elevator is of questionable mechanical integrity. I’d like to say the same about my figurative baggage. I manage. Though it may look as large, bold, and unwieldy as my large, purple suitcases, with the zippers barely holding shit in, but likewise, I’ve got it all handled. Like the Samsonite gorilla.

baggage 6

The “baggage” we are carry, often, is a result of taking risks in life, in love, in employment, in experiences. The “baggage” we carry almost always provides us with the catalyst to learn, to grow, to become greater that we once were. Hurt, perhaps, lost, a for a little bit, like a misplaced suitcase, but whole, again, with a little time and the right attitude. And, like a suitcase, the baggage we carry, can be unpacked, laundered, and put away when we’re ready. Living life without taking risks is much like trying to live for a week out of a puny piece of luggage; a fairly unenjoyable experience. Risk is to reward what caution is to compromise. And, usually, baggage.

baggage 5

Too often I hear people dismiss people, acquaintances, would be dates or lovers, job applicants or friends, because they “have too much baggage”. May I just say, if you think you don’t have baggage, you are a) incorrect b) tempting fate c) in for big trouble d) in denial. Baggage, in life, equates to “troubles”, of course, “trials”, “problems”. Please, really, tell me, who is completely free of troubles, trials, or problems, ever, in their whole life? Only fibbers, braggarts, and liars. And, perhaps, like beauty, those troubles, trials and problems are merely in the eye of the beholder. We all have scars, we all have baggage. To be so closed minded as to label someone as having too many troubles, trials, problems to be worthy of friendship, of acquaintance, of employment, of companionship, is really, quite cruel. And limiting. And foolish. For, in my experience, from my own experience, and in observation of many, people of admirable wisdom, people with the most self-worth, self-confidence, and, by far, the best stories, are those who’ve handled the most “baggage”. So, “shit, girl”, you bet!

baggage 7

 

A Long Talk with a Good Stranger

If you’ve read between the lines of my past couple of articles, you’ve probably gathered I’ve hit a bit of a rough patch. I’m broken hearted. At first, destroyed, then just devastated, now simply hurt. Notice I say that I hurt, not that “he hurt me”. It is how I am reacting to the situation, how I choose to react, there is no blame, just a feeling, and one that will pass, will heal. I’m doing much better, now. I didn’t cry once yesterday. Or so far, today. And before I go any further, let me be clear, what happened was destined to happen. I guess. It is what it is and I am fine. I still do, and always will, love and respect the man I lost. We have just taken things back to where we started from; friendship. Hurt and hate do not equate. And for this, I am incredibly grateful. I have nothing but good words and happy thoughts about all we shared and about the friendship that lies ahead. Cool. But it has been quiet, no talk, no exchange. In weeks, or has it only been a week? Seems an eternity.

When things get rough, though, I usually retreat a bit, meditate more, run more, sleep more, eat more conscientiously and drink less beer and more water. That things all unraveled during three consecutive weeks of intense travel and stressful work assignments prevented me from my self-prescribed therapy.  So, I unplugged. Traveling, I couldn’t eat as healthy as I should, run outdoors, sleep nearly enough, meditate quietly, or even think clearly, so retreating, unplugging, was my only recourse.

In unplugging, I did pry myself away from social media for a whole week, until I was certain I wouldn’t say something regrettable or publicize an invitation to my pity party, spurring a potential online flash mob of regret. I unplugged. I do this in times of hurt, I either unplug by removing myself from public view, or I unplug from you, if you happen to be the party I need to retreat from, for healing. Unplugging can be subtle, like just not being available, or more substantial; “unfriending” or maybe even “blocking” on social media, or removing conversations and contact information from my devices, not to be hurtful, but to be safe. I need time to reason and there is that period of unreasonableness where I may say something I don’t mean. I just unplug for a bit, regain perspective, and plug back in (unblock, refriend, restore contact information). It’s a “me problem”, and that’s how I deal.

In times of difficulty, we often seek solace in long conversations with good friends, our confidants, the people we trust will listen compassionately and advise with exactly what we want to hear! Or better, yet, sound advice. Cross country travel, long work hours and time zone differences hinder such luxuries. Fortunately, I was able to resort to an equally nourishing and enriching option, on more than one occasion; a long talk with a good stranger.

I am a frequent flier, and am, in fact, somewhere 30,000 feet over Middle America just now. I am, sometimes, a jaded, cynical, traveler. I expect everyone to know and adhere to the unwritten code of conduct aboard an airplane or seated in an airport bar; head down, gaze affixed on some device, or, eyes closed, feigning sleep, means “do not disturb”, and I hang this sign out more often than not. Being out of communication with friends, family, and the man I lost, caused me, perhaps, to lower that sign a little. Or maybe I looked ragged and torn and on the verge of something drastic and people sought to intervene. Whatever the cause, I’ve had some of the deepest, richest, most meaningful, soul-baring conversations I’ve ever had. And with complete strangers. And I haven’t just been on the telling side, I’ve listened, and advised, like the best of friends would. It has been so enriching, so nourishing. I’ve learned a lot, about myself, and others, too.

An Effort to Evolve

A U.S. Marine Corps reservist and young father headed to Chicago on a quick, connecting flight from Minneapolis, a quiet, well-spoken gentleman from Amsterdam at a sushi bar in O’Hare, we spoke of politics and religion, of culture and relationships, of career, and love, an angry, young, middle-eastern traveler and a compassionate, elderly Christian man, engrossed in nurturing and consoling conversation with each other, an exuberant, young Mormon man, just finishing his two-year mission and headed home, a woman near my age, and a kindred spirit, on a long, late, flight home, a unique and wonderful, very married man, brimming with intelligence and witty conversation, on a very long flight home, a recovering cashier at a dollar store, formerly a strong and independent business woman, who I knew was unique with her use of the word “antiquated” in an exchange with the customer before me, a brief and lively conversation with an distinguished older man in the Whole Foods beer aisle; everywhere I turn, another interesting person, another great conversation, a long, long talk with a good stranger.

Again, I’ll find myself, this week, three-thousand miles from home, alone in a hotel room, with only my thoughts, social media, an occasional text or Facebook notification, and the idea of an article to share, to prevent me from the full realization of my aloneness. During the day, with work and my clients and business lunches with familiar, client associates, I am fine. It is in the quiet nights in my room that I am reminded of my solitude and I can hardly wait for my next long, flight home or chance meeting in a restaurant, and, hopefully, a long talk with a good stranger.

 

Scarlett’s Letter December 2, 2013

What happened yesterday?

COFFEE GRINDER!!!
COFFEE GRINDER!!!

I got shit done and that’s it. Ten mile run. I finally got the coffee grinder from storage but only after getting coffee at the coffee shop, and breakfast, and running, and a shower. I also got my little Target brand Christmas tree up. Packed. Let Mom cook me GMO laced food featuring medicated, tortured cow. I only buy happy dead cow flesh, you know. Cows that were bottle fed by cherubs in sunny pastures, cattle that were lulled to sleep each night by the voices of fair maidens, fed on only lush, pesticide free grass growing in the richest of soils in some beautiful pasture with a view of the ocean,  treated holistically for any ailment that may materialize, provided with an endless supply of Evian water, massaged, by Swedish masseuses, and then, one day, blammo, hamburger. After a tasty, though suspect, meal, I packed for my two weeks away from home and went to bed. It is so much easier to go to bed at 7:00 PM when it’s actually dark out. I still didn’t end up turning out the light until 9:00. And my alarm went off at 1:00 AM.

Monday, squared.

Nice run yesterday! Warm! Sunny! Napa!
Nice run yesterday! Warm! Sunny! Napa!
Oh Christmas Tree!
Oh Christmas Tree!
Tortured cow. Delicious, though, thanks, Mom!
Tortured cow. Delicious, though, thanks, Mom!

In the few hours I slept, though, I had some crazy, crazy dreams. And I can even explain them! Mostly. I don’t know if my explanation is accurate, but there are some coincidences with what I dreamt and a few things that I viewed in the past couple of days. Either that, or I’m completely off my rails. Or both.

I dreamt, first, that there were a bunch of baby elephants wandering the streets in my neighborhood. Yes. Baby elephants. Just baby elephants. No mommy or daddy elephants. Then, I dreamt there were lions outside my bedroom window, standing on the roofs of the cars in the driveway, roaring, and trying to get inside. Oh, and the only part I can’t explain, I boxed some obnoxious lady in the ear because she was blocking the way to the restroom in some restaurant and she got belligerent when I asked her if I could pass. I’m not normally prone to acts of physical violence, so I’m not sure where that bit of the dream came from. I woke up right then, so I don’t know what happened.

I ground my coffee last night and actually made coffee for myself this morning, just to get me to the Starbucks at the airport in Sacramento, alive. With my “usual” latte, banana, oatmeal and large Fiji water, all in a Starbucks carrier bag, I made my way to the gate. How bad is it that I recognize several people in the boarding area, weekly travelers, like me. The United flight to Chicago every Monday morning is like a commuter train, all the same faces, all the same discussions; mileage, the state of the airline, airports. I look on, and listen, detached. I am not quite yet among their ranks, they all log over 100k miles a year. I’m struggling to make my much desired “Gold” status. Without gold status, I simply cannot imagine travel. I’d have to pay for luggage, I wouldn’t be able to book seats in “economy plus” for free, my bags wouldn’t be the first off the plane and I wouldn’t get premier access to ticketing. I’m not sure what would happen to my TSA Pre-Check status. So easily am I spoiled. I am oh-so close. I was going to book a trip to Hawaii to visit my son, but the ticket prices between now and the end of the year are pretty steep and I’d have to travel before the end of the year, I think, to “get” the extra miles.

The "Monday Morning Line" at Starbucks at SMF 4:15 AM.
The “Monday Morning Line” at Starbucks at SMF 4:15 AM.

The flight to Chicago is miserable. It’s either a brand new plane or a newly retrofitted plane, but, there is no economy plus seating, no extra legroom, it’s like coach. Somehow, after tweeting my complaint @united, I manage to sleep most of the way, just to block out the horrible experience.

No legroom in a seat that would formerly been in the United Economy Plus section.
No legroom in a seat that would formerly have been in the United Economy Plus section.
Legroom! United Economy Plus! THIS is what I'm talking about!
Legroom! United Economy Plus! THIS is what I’m talking about!

I am so excited to have a couple of hour layover at O’Hare! I love O’Hare. I could live in O’Hare! We deplane a couple of gates down from Beaudevin wine bar. It’s noonish. Wine seems fine. But, I am torn. I’d like to have lunch at Rick Bayless’ Tortas Frontera. There is a bar there that serves Negra Modelo AND has plentiful electrical outlets. Tortas Frontera is very popular, though, I can only imagine the wait in line for food, and then the wait for a seat at the bar or at a nearby table. And especially right at noon. I peruse the food displayed at Beaudevin and it doesn’t look so good. All of the salads feature iceberg lettuce with browned edges. First of all, iceberg lettuce has the nutritional value of water and tastes about the same. It’s only redeeming quality is it’s crispiness, but, the browned edges led me to believe that the crispiness may long since have deteriorated from the salads displayed. I walked past, heading for Tortas Frontera, glance at my watch and turn back, again, towards Beaudevin. I notice they now have electrical outlets beneath the bar AND open seats. I envision waiting for a seat at TF, I think of the limp salads, compared to a Cochinita Pibil torta, I turn, take three steps towards Tortas Frontera, eye the wine selection, again, and the open seating, and turn back. I climb up on an overly padded stool at the bar and look over the menu. I decide on a flight of California Cabs and the cheese platter. You can’t go wrong with cheese and wine that come from NorCal. Can’t. Unless, of course, the cheese is so over-chilled you can’t taste it, so over-chilled it won’t even slice, let alone spread on the oddly textured bread. The wine is good. I pick at my cheese plate, eat about two-thirds of it, and give up.

Very cold cheese with a lovely flight of wine.
Very cold cheese with a lovely flight of wine.
 I shoulda had the cochinita pibil at Tortas Frontera!
I shoulda had the cochinita pibil at Tortas Frontera!
Aaaaahhhh.
Aaaaahhhh.

I pay up and make my way to my gate in the other terminal, and, as luck would have it, is right next to Tortas Frontera, which, by now, is not so busy. There’s an open seat at the bar and I sidle up and order a Negra Modelo. Yes, I enjoy beer and wine, often, but I consume, perhaps, a little too much on travel days. I won’t even begin to try to justify it. Sport? Challenge? Or just seeking an ultra-relaxed and altered state of mind in a “world” of frenzied, unprepared, entertaining, though annoying, casual, infrequent travelers. My subliminal goal is to be the first in my boarding group to board the damn plane, find my seat, and slip into a numbed state of mind, if not sleep. Sleep is preferable.  

This, I accomplish on the flight from Chicago to LaGuardia. I stop at the natural food kiosk on my way to the baggage claim and grab a yogurt and an “Eighteen Rabbits” bar for breakfast in the morning. By the time I get to the baggage carousel, my bags have arrived and been unloaded to the side with a handful of others. They are mighty fast at this airport. And, this is one of the few airports where someone insists on comparing your baggage claim tickets to the bags you’re trying to remove. I appreciate this. I may be the only one.

I catch the bus to the rental car lot and select, as my car of the week, a Challenger. Black. Cool, right? Personally, I prefer the Charger. I have opinions on cars much like I do food, wine, fashion and airlines. It is rush hour and I’m in a muscle car. In Long Island. Talk about a complete waste. I honestly think I could live here for decades, not that I’d want to, and still not be able to visualize the maze of highways, interstates and expressways. It is dizzying, and, not much unlike California, SoCal in particular, most conversations quickly turn from the weather to “how I commuted today”.  I listen to David Zabriskie of Team Garmin on my Nuvii as we navigate fast, then slow, fast, then slow, fast, then slow, the fourteen miles to Garden City where I am to live and work for the rest of the work week.

Challenger; car of the week.
Challenger; car of the week.

I come here, for the same client, every year. Often twice. This is my second week here in the past month. I stay in the same hotel and dine at many of the same restaurants. Tonight, for example, tired and lacking energy and enthusiasm, it will be comfort food; Shake Shack, which is practically across the street from my hotel. A beer there, with my SmokeShack burger, hold the sauce, oh, and fries, don’t tell Jillian, and I am ready to go back to the hotel to get ready for the week.  Iron, organize my training materials, set out the tip for housekeeping for tomorrow and get ready for bed. I need sleep.

Comfort food - the Smokeshack at Shake Shack.
Comfort food – the Smokeshack and a Shakemeister beer at Shake Shack.

Scarlett’s Letter November 26, 2013

I worked in San Francisco today. Rough life, I know, New York City to San Francisco.

I’m tired of being “on the road”, and I’m looking forward to a long Thanksgiving weekend at home with Mom and my friends. Two more weeks of business travel after Thanksgiving and I’m done for the year. I think. I’m considering a personal trip to Hawaii to visit my kid and then, January, I’m not sure what I’m going to do, burn some vacay time and go to Alaska, probably.

I shopped at Union Square tonight, at Uniqlo. I LOVE Uniqlo, and I never had a moment to shop there in NYC. So, tonight, in San Fran, I bought a shitload of cold weather clothing, “Heateach” base layer clothing and a packable down jacket in the most obnoxious shade of purple known to man. The clerk at the checkout stand had to “warn” me that the base layer stuff was not returnable or exchangeable, even if the packages were not opened. Harsh policy, and, for a moment, even I doubted my size small status. But, I made the purchase anyway, figuring I’d just work out four hours a day and cut my food and alcohol consumption in half, bringing it down to what most folks my size consume. Back in my hotel room, after a HUGE dinner and dessert and four glasses of wine, I finally worked up the nerve to try the un-returnable, non-exchangeable, size small shit on. Hello? It fits! Of course I’m a size small. Why do people make me doubt myself? I know me better than anyone. I’m a very curvy, somewhat voluptuous, size small. Every girl’s dream and EXACTLY what I’ve always wanted to be!!

And this, after one of the most amazing meals I have ever consumed! I ate at an “old school” French restaurant last night, and loved, loved, loved it. The service was, appropriately, stuck up. So French. But the food was very good. There is a whole “French Quarter” in San Fran, with several restaurants practically adjacent to one another. I’ve eaten at three, so far, and had a hard time NOT eating at another tonight. I stuck with B44, the Spanish restaurant I made reservations at through Open Table because they had a menu item featuring fish, lentils and avocado all in one dish, which is my interpretation of heaven. It was heaven, and the stuck up, aloof, and somewhat inattentive waiter recommended a zinfandel, originally from here, a hundred years ago, then transported to the Canary Islands. This, I’m quite sure, was one of the best wines I have ever tasted. The aloof waiter’s tip went from 15% to 20% at the first sip. And, just so you know, I never tip only 15%. I’m getting really tired of wait staff that don’t know how to deal with single diners, though.

Speaking of single diners, last night, at the stuck up French place, a single male diner entered the restaurant, the maître’d asked if he was “a party of one”, without missing a beat, the single diner replied, “yes, and ‘party’ is the operative word”. I took mental note, and, I plan to steal that line wherever it will fit! Perfect! I loved it!

So, my day; work, shopping, food, wine, writing.  Except for the work part, it was a really good day! And, truthfully, the work part wasn’t that bad, except that I feel like I’m devoting a lot of energy to someone else’s passion. I need to make an adjustment, I just need the guts to do so (link to courage).

San Fran is amazing, though, in my impression, dirtier, filthier, and grittier than Manhattan. I do love big cities, but, while I enjoy the architecture, the food, the culture, I’m lonelier than I ever thought possible. Week after week after week is really beginning to wear on me. I crave companionship, friendship and love. This weekend will be good, before two more very lonely weeks on the road.

The holidays will be a little strange this year, with the kids all far, far away and not returning home, for the first time, ever. It will be a bit quiet, a little sad and a tad lonely without them. I plan on focusing on friends, Mom, and spending some time near home, for a change. I’m looking forward to it.

Scarlett’s Letter November 15, 2013

A sound night’s sleep last night. I almost don’t have dark circles under my eyes. Bliss.

Today, I am so excited.

I finished up with my client today, a little early, something about the Jewish folks in my class and having to go home and have dinner before dark. It is some certain, special time in Jewish world and I have no idea what. I tried to Google it, I looked it up on Wikipedia, and like all things to do with the Jewish faith, I am now more confused than I was ever before. There is nothing about Judaism that makes a lick of sense to me. I respect the faith, completely, but I don’t understand the first thing about it and any attempt to ask about it, or educate myself, has been futile and has left me more confused than before. All I know, their pizza looked just like ours but came from somewhere else and, we started earlier this morning, worked through lunch and finished earlier this afternoon, and I got to go to the mall. I was excited! I have worked with this client for three years, I have been here a half dozen times or more, their office building is perched at the edge of the mall, yet, I’ve never been. I’ve set foot inside, but I’ve never “been” to the mall. There is a difference, and it was exciting.

Non-koser pizza. A working lunch. Looks just like the Kosher pizza. ??????
Non-kosher pizza. A working lunch. Looks just like the Kosher pizza. ??????

I didn’t go to the mall, Roosevelt Field, to shop indiscriminately, I went with a plan and a mission. I intended to buy a pair of black slacks for work that do not require dry cleaning. I have a lovely black pair of slacks, from Banana Republic, but they can only be dry-cleaned. Who has time for that? Dry cleaning is for people who are in the same city for more than a day at a time. I need clean black slacks and I need them clean and back in the suitcase in twelve hours. I have some fantastic, washable slacks from Express, a nice navy blue with a subtle gray pinstripe and another pair in classic gray. They fit great, sort of a manly cut with a low rise that looks super sexy on curvy hips, a small waist, and a flat tummy. They wash great, iron great, pack great, last forever and I want some in black, and maybe every other color they come in. I’m pretty excited.

I found the Express for Women after walking about a mile and a half through the vast mall, and that was the direct route, I just sort of parked at the wrong end. Okay, I admit, I did it on purpose, I wanted to see everything. I went in to Express and found the table with “Editor” style slacks. I found black and began to dig for my size, a six regular. There were about twenty pairs of size zero, twenty pairs of size two, ten pair of size four, and two pair of size eight. A dowdy looking clerk, at least my age, eyed me with disproval and disdain. I know, my son used to work at Men’s Warehouse; I was messing up her merchandise. I am sympathetic to this and was being ever so careful not to cause any disarray, but, finally, she could take no more and impatiently asked me what size I desired. She didn’t say desire, I’m not sure what she said, but it was abrupt and curt and with an air of impatience. I told her and she produced a pair for me from somewhere. I thanked her and browsed some more. I grabbed another style of black pants, just to see if I’d like them even better than the “Editor” cut. I found a polka dot blouse, a gray sweater and a beige blouse, all pieces I could use for work. I haven’t bought blouses for work in, literally, years. I don’t work in the same office every week, I can get away with three or four work blouses. But I do, now, have many repeat clients that I see at least annually, and, truthfully, I think I’ve worn the same four blouses to the same clients for three years straight. Maybe four. It is time for a new blouse, or two. Justified! Bam!

I take my armload of clothes and go in search of a fitting room. I find two empty, locked rooms, but no attendant. There’s a mother and daughter duo fighting in one fitting room, to the point of blows, I think, and the other is unoccupied. I wait a moment, with my “I’m being patient and tolerant” smile on my face. Five minutes later, an employee passes, donning a headset and some blinking, flashing transmission device dangling from her grotesquely tight pants (I think she bought the size zero thinking it said size ten). There was a wire running from the transmission device to her headset, giving her the appearance of a secret service operative. She glanced at me, annoyed, and told me to go to the fitting rooms over by the cash register. I did. I stood for a while. There were six fitting rooms. One occupied. All locked. A clan of women pushed past me and were admitted from the occupant of the one occupied fitting room. Is that how one seeks admission, like an exclusive nightclub? You have to know someone on the “inside”? A line forms behind me, like cattle in a chute waiting for the truck going to the slaughterhouse. Everyone else in line is gazing down at their mobile devices, perfectly accepting of the fact that we are the only people in the store, aside from the six employees, who are all too busy with some urgent, but unseen business to attend to us, the customers, with armloads of merchandise that we’d dearly love to give up our hard earned money for.

An employee scuttles past and says, “a couple of you can go over to the other fitting rooms.” I’m first in line, so I go and am followed by the young woman behind me. I’m back where I started. Both rooms are empty, but locked, and there is no attendant in sight. The lady who “helped” me find the black slacks is folding clothes right next to me, but, apparently, that’s all she knows how to do because she can’t open the doors to the dressing room. I stand for another minute or two. The young woman behind me is staring blankly at the lit display on her mobile device. I think there must be a “pacification” app I don’t know about. Everyone seems content with being herded around and never assisted. I’m adding up dollar value of the pile of clothes draped over my arm, I figure about $200 worth, and I lost it. I dropped the clothes unceremoniously on the floor and strode out of the store. I will spend more, twice even, for better service. Gladly.

My son, Dogwood, sends a text from Hawaii, where he lives. He has an update on his quest for gainful employment. He has a fantastic, unpaid, volunteer, position tutoring kids in a robotics club and he loves it. Unpaid, yes, but with connections that may land him an even more fantastic, paid internship. Yes, studies are first and foremost, but, as I’ve said to him, more than once, “I don’t live in Honolulu because I can’t afford to live in Honolulu, so, no, I can’t afford to pay for you to live in Honolulu”. From birth, practically, I’ve taught my kids the value of networking and connecting, and, as a result, he has some fantastic employment prospects. I am proud. I tell him so. I’m so excited, he will do very well in life, having mastered networking so early in adulthood.

I had dinner reservations at a Cuban restaurant, adjacent to the mall, they had a yummy sounding menu and good reviews on Open Table. My client said it was good, and he is sort of a food snob, too, he just doesn’t take pictures of his food, like I do, but when I get my phone out to snap a shot of my meal, he wants his included in the photo, too. Funny. Anyway. Dinner. Cuban. I’m excited!

Dinner.
Dinner.

Upon walking in, it was definitely “corporate”. You can tell, instantly. Meh. Oh well. I was seated next to a woman, also a single diner. You know, the bench seat on one side, little table, chair on the other? That’s where they always put the single diners. Sure, couples sit there, too, usually, one on either side of the single diners, isolating the single diners from the other single diners so there is no chance of striking up a conversation. Couples just try to pretend the single diners don’t exist, that they aren’t there, right next to them, with nothing better to do than listen to what they’re talking about. Oh, it’s true. It’s totally impossible to NOT hear every word, every whisper and every murmur. Tonight, though, I was seated next to the other single diner. In fact, since it was kind of early for dinner, we were the only diners in that half of the restaurant. All the “normal” people who dine in small herds, were seated in the other room. I guess that would be the room for people who have people with which to eat and this would be the room for those who dine alone. The Latin host showed me my seat and pointed at the lady next to me, made a remark, pointed to me and made the same remark, in some Latin language. He translated, “alone,” he smiled, “you are both lonely”, he smiled broader, “single!” I smiled, tolerantly, and took my seat.

The lady next to me made small talk, she’d been to a movie at the theater next door. She downed her elaborate looking cocktail with a foot tall stalk of sugar cane protruding from it and ordered another. I tried to order a beer, but my waiter seemed perplexed by the fact that I might actually want to select a beer from a menu. There was a big, glossy, bound book of adult beverages, and he wanted to show me all the margaritas and sangrias. I asked again about beer. More about margaritas and sangrias. Finally, he let me handle the book, I flipped a few pages and found the rather pedestrian beer list. I was hoping for something exotic, perhaps even Cuban. Negra Modelo is fab, but I buy it by the twelve pack and drink it like some folks drink milk. It’s a staple.

The waiter returned with my beer, and a glass. He asked if I wanted the glass, which was nice, because I didn’t, I prefer the bottle. The lady next to me ordered a glass of Riesling. When her waitress brought it to her, she tasted it and didn’t like it. She got another crazy looking cocktail with the hunk of sugar cane in it. She asked me about my beer and said she’d like to try one. I assured her it was good. She said she really didn’t like beer, so I headed her off, “Oh, I love beer, the darker the better.” She crinkled her nose and thought better of ordering one. She worked on the sugar cane cocktail some more. By the time my dinner came I knew her whole life story; she’s an attorney, educated at USC. Her dad’s birthday is next week, on the 18th, and she always gets him a shirt or a sweater. She’s going to shop for him after her dinner. I hope she can manage. Dad may end up with something really different this year. Her mom is deceased. She is 38 and unmarried, no kids. She wants kids, she’s not so sure about the marriage thing. I smile knowingly. She had an asshole boyfriend that she’s known since school, he’s been married before and has kids, but it didn’t work out. They’re still friends. Her brother is an accountant with a knack for computers and works for Fannie Mae, now. He never passed the CPA exam and she doesn’t understand his success, except that he’s super good at networking is well connected. She had a falling out with her brother, though, because his wife has no teeth and doesn’t know the difference between a proprietary lease and, oh crap, I forgot, some other kind of document. Now she won’t like me, I don’t know the difference. At least I have all my teeth. She’s still talking. She has a friend in California who is getting a divorce and she’s handling the case even though she is licensed in New York and practices employment law, normally. But her friend isn’t good about getting the paperwork done on time and hasn’t even filed her taxes. Her birthday is the same week as her dad’s, though she never mentioned the date, and she wants another Mont Blanc pen. She has lots of expensive pens because she likes to write and her mom “groomed” her that way. I wasn’t sure what that meant. By now, my meal is finished, my beer is empty, my bill is paid, I’m wearing my coat and my scarf, my cross-body bag is slung across my body, I have one foot positioned in the space between our tables, leaning over, like a runner in the blocks waiting for the pistol to fire. I desperately want to leave. She is still talking, and I have so tuned her out, I now have no idea what she is talking about. Finally, she stands, shakes my hand and stumbles out. I wait for her to get, hopefully, out of the parking lot, before I head for my car. So, a lawyer and an accountant go into a bar … the lawyer talks incessantly and the accountant makes note of all the details. Typical.

I exchange a text or two with my friend, Miles. We went to high school together and ran into each other at a Catholic church in the Sierra foothills some twenty plus years later. Now we keep in touch. I joined a running club he belongs to, on his recommendation. He’s a good friend and he’s checking up on me to see if I’ll be running this weekend, in preparation for the C.I.M., the California International Marathon, in a few very short weeks. My first. I’m excited, in a scared and petrified sort of way. This is his billionth marathon. He’s also checking on me after reading some of my posts from earlier this week. I got a virtual hug. A good friend, like I said. I assure him, twenty miles on Sunday, and, yes, I’m fine.

I also exchange a few emails with “the girls”, in light of the good news yesterday, we are conspiring to find a day to visit, a day when we are all motionless just long enough for a visit, two of the girls returning from Spain, me from New York, another off to Hawaii, and me to New York, again. Visits with friends are a nightmare to orchestrate, but are so, so, so important, and necessary, rare, and enjoyable. Like air to breathe. I’m so excited!

I stop at the liquor store, buy a bottle of red wine and head for the next hotel. A quiet night to write, with wine and a small piece of my Mast Brothers chocolate bar, made in Brooklyn and bought at Shake Shack the other night. I’m super excited!

Chocolate and wine and a night to write 3,500 words about nothing much, really.
Chocolate and wine and a night to write 3,500 words about nothing much, really.

My TomTom, was on a bender, again, tonight. Armando, that’s my TomTom’s name, he is voice activated and answers to Armando. What can I say? Every now and then, and without warning, Armando decides to avoid the highways and take mostly surface streets, usually in very large cities, like Boston and San Francisco, and usually when I have not the time, the patience or the wherewithal to devise a better, more traveled route. I had the time tonight and saw parts of Long Island I never knew existed. I have a visual on several potential restaurants for my next visit, in just a few weeks.

I ultimately arrived at my hotel, one I stay at regularly, a Marriott, a block away from the United terminal at LaGuardia. I feel like Norm at Cheers when I walk in. Okay, not quite, but I do have a few hotels that I have become quite regular at. I tossed my bags in my room, returned my rental car, and caught the hotel shuttle back. Once in my room, I did what I always do, first thing; look out the window. To my delight, from my window tonight, I see the skyline of Manhattan. I can pick out the Chrysler Building. I’ve worked there before. Okay, for three days, as a consultant, but still. I was on the floor where the gargoyles were perched, it was so exciting, gazing out the window of the conference room, down, on the backs of the gargoyles, only a few feet out of reach on the other side of the glass. I’m sorry, I love architecture and historic old buildings just drive me nuts, especially from the art deco era. I can see the Empire State Building, to which I’ve been to the top, once, and the tippy top another time. I look at the millions of twinkling lights of  “The City” from my window, I dare not turn a light on in my room and lessen their brilliance. I will sleep with my curtains open to relish the view. I love every little light bulb, illuminating that magical skyline, and I can’t wait. I’m excited!

MANHATTAN!!!!! SO EXCITED!!!!
MANHATTAN!!!!! SO EXCITED!!!!

I texted Daisy, my daughter. My baby, my youngest. She turns twenty-one next week, “Are you going to be able to celebrate your birthday in ‘The City’ with me next weekend?” She quickly replied, “Yes! I forgot to tell you, I have Wednesday through Saturday off …” I am so excited! We own Manhattan. It is our place. One of our places. We love the wilderness, too. Wherever we go, we will carry what we need, whether shopping bags and mimosas in our metal “water” bottles, or our matching backpacks, we will find adventure and just have a fab time.

It is Friday, and a good day, the end to an interminable, weird and uncomfortable week. I have nearly four days at home before I am off again, and I am excited.

My lesson for the day; stay in touch, network and connect. I recently read a book on charisma, “The Charisma Myth – How Anyone Can Master the Art and Science of Personal Magnetism” by Olivia Fox Cabane. you know how I love books, most books, anyway. This was a great book, very charismatic, and had some fantastic suggestions. One was to reach out to at least five different people every day, whether through a personal message on social media, a text, a phone call, an email, a letter, a face-to-face conversation, or, I guess, smoke signals or carrier pigeons. However.

I’m also listening to a fantastic audiobook on Audible, “Younger Next Year for Women,” by Chris Crowley and Henry Lodge. I am so excited, I can hardly wait to listen to it on the plane tomorrow, and in my car on the way home from the airport. One of the “rules” to being younger next year, to not decay until death, is to connect with people, to be social, to have friends, to be in touch, to be touched.

I am as guilty as anyone, we get busy, we try to find time to just sleep, eat, work, sleep, eat, work, sleep, eat work. Retire, watch TV and die. I retaliate against this plight, I rebel against such a routine and mundane life. I live to connect, I connect to live. How many people have you connected with today? Me? My clients, of course, a chatty and partially inebriated attorney over Cuban food, my friend Miles, the “girls”, my son, Dogwood, my daughter, Daisy, and a quick text with my Sweetie before he headed further north through the vast cellular service wasteland to Prudhoe Bay. It was a good day. Still, I am writing, I have to get up in three hours, I’m going to have dark circles under my eyes, again. Now to sleep, in the soft glow of a billion glimmering lights from a not so distant skyline. I’m excited.

Scarlett’s Letter November 14, 2013

If there’s an emotion I didn’t experience this week, it’s only because it hasn’t been defined yet.

My God.

A bit short on sleep, it is possible I’m really just suffering from good, old-fashioned exhaustion. Go ahead, ask me if I got up at 4:30 AM and worked out. Considering I turned off the light around midnight and flopped around on a ten-acre bed, trying to find sleep until, oh, probably 4:15 AM, your guess, “no”, would be correct. Guilt. The first emotion of the day.

Through a chain of gruesome events leading to the discovery of some unsavory news from the dark ages of my youth, a long-standing friendship with Stanly, a man I knew, and loved for a time, as a young woman, ended. Sorrow. The emotion that accompanied me in my futile attempts to sleep.

In response to the intense sense of indignation from the events noted above, a retaliatory literary grenade was lobbed into cyberspace, and, well, ended up in the enemy camp. Stanly read the article, the demonic one that has since been removed, revised with a more human flair, and reposted.

Stanly, the young man I knew, and loved for a time, as a young woman, fell from a pedestal I’d placed him on, a pedestal he has occupied for thirty some years. The crash from that pedestal was both violent and abrupt, leaving behind a wake of shock and pain. Two more emotions I find myself awash in.

The man Stanly has become, even after reading the scathing, hateful and hurtful account of my discovery of his historic betrayal, apologized. A genuine and heartfelt apology. I think what I’ve experienced from that moment on is the emotion that hasn’t been defined yet. There is relief and remorse, shame and surprise.

The net result, though, is that a lost friendship I grieved over yesterday, breathes new life today. Neither of us, I’m sure, will ever forget what transpired, and that, I think is a good thing. There were a few long overdue life lessons to be learned by both of us. Gratitude.

Stanly, the boy who betrayed me many, many years ago, crashed from the pedestal a couple of days ago. Destroyed. The man Stanly has become ascends from the rubble and reclaims his place. Respect.

At work today, I teach a group of young auditors that I have taught for the past two years. I first met them as brand new hires for an accounting firm on Long Island three years ago, fresh, eager faces, new to their firm and to auditing. I taught them the basics of auditing and some software skills they’d need to embark on their first year of their career. Last year I returned to teach them more advanced skills to carry them on their way.  I return, again, to teach them the last I have to teach them, all it is I know, making them equals, but for a few more years of experience. Pride.

I received an email from a friend I’ve known since elementary school, a friend who has been battling cancer for years, a friend who was told a year ago she’d be dead by now. She, obviously, is alive. She was told that the tumor they found behind her heart, after the initial cancer was treated and cured, was inoperable and likely would not respond to chemotherapy. It did. She was told that the tumor behind her heart would always be there, that she’d have to receive chemotherapy for the rest of her uncertain life. It is gone. The chemotherapy is over. And now they tell her she has a long life to look forward to. Tough, today, she was told that there is virtually no doubt that, some day, her cancer will return, she knows, in her heart, in her mind, in her soul, as do we, her friends, that they may be wrong. And, if it does return, we all know, without a doubt, she will beat it. It is because there is no doubt. Faith. Hope. Joy.

Do not ever underestimate the power of positive thought, yourself, or for those in your circle. Wisdom.

I dined alone for dinner tonight, which I do more often than not. Alone in a different restaurant every night. Sure, I enjoy the quest, finding the great local restaurants everywhere I go, choosing the perfect glass of wine or local craft or interesting imported beer, the most divine salad or appetizer, the perfect entrée, delicious, artful and healthy. I pretend not to see people look at me, at a table alone, I imagine they aren’t wondering why a woman dines alone. In days gone by, in restaurants with my family or friends, upon seeing a “single diner”, I’d often wonder, I’d often imagine, just what circumstances brought them to such a fate. I surmised, probably not incorrectly, as in my case, that they were business travelers, far from home. I somehow understood that dining alone in a restaurant had to be better than a microwave meal in the solitude of a dank hotel room. Or room service fare, both overpriced and low quality, while trying to catch up on emails and preparations for the next day’s meetings. I felt empathy towards those people I saw, as I sat, surrounded by friends or family members, sharing the day’s news.  And I know, as I meet eyes with diners around me, they have similar thoughts, that, perhaps, they feel somewhat sorry for me. Which I can barely stand. Often, the wait staff don’t quite know how to effectively “deal” with a single diner. I am either rushed through my meal and quickly dismissed, or I am forgotten for more populated tables and booths. Rare is the waiter or waitress that knows exactly how to make a single diner feel welcomed, that knows how to engage them in a genuine conversation. I did not have one of those waitresses tonight. I still tipped twenty percent. The really good ones get twenty-five. Loneliness.

I returned to my room, later, and set to writing. A tiny text message and a sweet phone call with my man. Love. But the wind and the snow are blowing there and the phone line went dead in the storm, mid-conversation. Frustration. Another text with those three little words. Happiness.

In my ridiculously large Victoria’s Secret sweatpants and my Sweetie’s “Silver Gulch Brewing and Bottling” shirt, I finish this last little bit and ready for a restful night’s sleep. Comfort.

Fantastic mushroom flatbread at lunch with my client. Seasons 52, Garden City, New York.
Fantastic mushroom flatbread at lunch with my client. Seasons 52, Garden City, New York.
Trout. Lunch at Seasons 52, where everything on the menu is less than 475 calories, but you'd never know it, it all tastes so good!
Trout. Lunch at Seasons 52, where everything on the menu is less than 475 calories, but you’d never know it, it all tastes so good!
Dining alone at West End Cafe, Carle Place, New York. Great atmosphere and quite popular, even early in the evening. Great bar, too, but quiet enough for conversation.
Dining alone at West End Cafe, Carle Place, New York. Great atmosphere and quite popular, even early in the evening. Great bar, too, but quiet enough for conversation.
Chandon Brut. Perfect.
Chandon Brut. Perfect.
The small almond and gorgonzola salad at West End Cafe. Excellent.
The small almond and gorgonzola salad at West End Cafe. Excellent.
The striped bass on spaghetti squash with carrots and mushrooms at West End Cafe. Fantastic.
The striped bass on spaghetti squash with carrots and mushrooms at West End Cafe. Fantastic.

Scarlett’s Letter November 13, 2013

I stayed up too late last night, spewing poisonous, venomous thoughts and feelings into an article. My alarm went off way too early this morning. I was supposed to head to the treadmill in the hotel workout out room for a five mile run and some weights. I thought better of it, and managed only to lift my phone off the bedside table and reset the alarm for another hour. Schmuck. I know a good, hard work out is just what I need to elevate my heart rate, my metabolism, and my spirits.

This is a pattern that seems to establish itself during “busy” season every year. I haul around workout clothes, shoes, DVD’s, yoga mats, all requiring a second suitcase. I don’t have to pay baggage fees, so other than wheeling it effortlessly around, there is no real hardship in packing every creature comfort, and half of a fitness center, for my trips. But, as soon as I arrive at my destination, it becomes so easy for me to squirrel out of my intended daily workout. I feel progressively worse with the accumulation of too many restaurant meals and too little exertion. I stand, teaching, for eight hours, continuously, with a break to sit and eat lunch, half way through. This is exhausting, way more tiring than it should be. It is hard to be “on”, all the time, week after week, time zone after time zone. My moments at home consist of frantically unpacking, laundering, packing, maybe going for a run, running errands and, usually, a meal or two out, at a restaurant, of all things, with Mom. Then off I go, again, at some obscene hour in the morning, for another flight, to another city, in another state, for another week, exactly as I just described. This is how I make money, this is not how I want to make a living.

This afternoon, I had my class working on an exercise, accrued liabilities, I think. I checked my email and I’m pretty certain I cursed out loud, because a young man in the front row looked up at me in surprise. I got a schedule confirmation for my next “free week”, which, by the way, is in mid-December. West Virginia. The bright side; I ain’t never been to West Virginia before, so I can color another little state on my map, bright red. More airline miles, I may maintain my status with United for another year. Believe it or not, this year is going to be a squeaker. I’ve had to use alternate airlines a few times too many and my United miles didn’t accumulate quite as usual. I will die if I don’t have status with United. Die. Or quit.

Not five minutes after my West Virginia schedule confirmation arrived, I got a little email from my manager, it was titled “Work Load”, and it read, “Hey, just a heads up, I have told Liz and company (our scheduling team) to put you last on the scheduling priority list. So unless we get really busy or have a lot of Level II or Level III orders come in (I guess those sessions are my specialty), your December should be a little bit slower.” Which December is he speaking of?

By the time I finished work and ate dinner, it was 7:00 PM. My only personal mission, this evening, was to rid myself of “the book”, mail it back to my dear friend who loaned it to me, knowing not of the dreadful stories within. I intended to find a post office with a 24-hour lobby, grab a flat rate box, shove the book inside, seal it shut quickly, so as to capture all the demons that lurk in the pages of that dark ledger, address the box hastily, swipe my credit card in the self-help kiosk and slam dunk the package into the receptacle. I wore out the battery in my Garmin and two different iPhones, and nearly a set of tires on the rental car, navigating to one post office after another, all over Long Island. I was accosted by one security guard at one location, as to my intentions, leered at by a bum crossing the street at another fine postal service locale, and nearly killed by a bright yellow Lamborghini making an illegal turn and yet another dark, locked post office. No lobbies were unlocked, not one. I guess it’s a left coast thing, the kinder, gentler postal service, lobbies open 24/7 for busy, late night patrons with a credit card and the patience to use the self-help kiosk, and for shelter for the homeless. And free boxes for last minute gift-wrapping.

So, “the book” is shoved in the bottom of my suitcase, beneath my very smelly running shoes. For that reason alone, I should go work up a beastly sweat and put my stinky gym clothes in there, too. Stupid book.

I am much better today, still angry as hell, but better. I keep catching myself thinking about the story in “the book”. I really want to forget it, forever, and ever, but my mind keeps thrusting it forward for more processing, much like the very annoying “In Flight” monitors in the backs of the headrests on United flights, mere inches from your face, that just keep looping the same commercials and excerpts from shows over and over and over, for three thousand miles. Oh, sure, I turn mine off, I figured out how to do that a long, long time ago. But I’m the only person who does turn the screen off, so everywhere I glance, the same images, looping endlessly, flashing bright enough to be detected from behind tightly closed eyelids. This, much like the thoughts generated from “the book”.

And I know better. The thoughts all need to be dismissed, filed away, marked classified, locked in a cold war era metal filing cabinet in a dark, obscure room in some top-secret government facility, in the middle of some baron land. And the key lost. Forever. I know that by thinking about the words on those pages and the feelings they provoke that I am only giving power to the negative feelings; the hurt, the anger, the disbelief. I know the only way to rise above it all and continue my upward flight towards stardom is to completely dispel myself of those thoughts.

“The book”, being written by someone I liked and respected only a few short days ago, someone I have thought of often, with fond memories of a distant, shared, past, someone I thought of quite regularly, for thirty some years, someone I counted as a friend and even, more recently, enjoyed occasional Facebook banter about beer, cars and marathons vs. triathlons with. It is as though I am in mourning, having lost that good person, like a death. And in his place, someone who so callously used me, for such a long period of time, in my young, rather formative years, a person who betrayed me, without remorse, as told in a self-published book. This, I think, is grief. I’ll get over it, soon enough. Always do.

There is a part of me that wants to make a grand, noisy, loud and obnoxious exit, making well known my deep disproval and hurt. There is the other part of me that wants only to bow my head, avert my eyes downward, disappear, quietly mourn, lie low, and try to forget. We two are at odds, presently, and so, probably a good thing, I sit paralyzed and do neither. Just write. I simply carry on as though nothing matters. This, I am well practiced at. This is my defense. This is how I grieve. And, so, I am grateful, I suppose, that my “little bit slower December” isn’t actually any slower at all. A fast pace, frantic schedule, busy airports and big cities will, hopefully, dispel the poisonous thoughts that stem from the newfound knowledge of betrayal. And some time after my “little bit slower December”, I plan to steal away to the great white north for a time, to experience real darkness, real cold, real quiet, real people, and real peace, far from the fast pace, the frantic schedules, the busy airports and the big cities. This is how I heal.

Right now, as soon as I hit the “publish” button, I am crawling under bleached white sheets and a heavy white duvet, in a bleak, worn and very generic hotel room, curling my body into a fetal position, hugging one of the six pillows tighter than tight, nestling my head in another, making myself as tiny as possible in this enormous, kind-sized bed, and willing the deepest, soundest sleep, before the alarm sounds, once again, and another day, one of joy, optimism and positive energy, spills out before me.

Scarlett’s Letter Halloween 2013

Trick or treat?

I just returned, late last night, from four fun-filled days in Phoenix at my company’s “User Conference”. This was my fourth User Conference. I’ve been with the company for five years and some months. I remember feeling so left out and overlooked that first year, not being selected to go to User Conference. All the veterans just rolled their eyes and said, “ugh, consider yourself lucky.” After my first User Conference, the very next year, I totally understood. From about 7:00 AM every morning until about 11:00 PM every night, being “on” and “customer facing”. Towing the company line. Exhausting. Trick.

I am exhausted, though, I will admit, this was, by far, the best (for me) User Conference. Ever. I am still exhausted. Today was a day of adjustment; one of making my own decisions as to when to be where to do exactly what, well, sort of what, I wanted to do, rather than following a tightly scripted schedule, which, by the way, was to be worn around my neck along with a lime green lanyard, with my name tag and a large, garish button that said “How Can I Help You?” Kill me. Yes, today, I still had work to do; emails to answer, expense reports to complete (or so an email marked “URGENT !!!! said), and travel to arrange, then rearrange. Trick.

My goals for the day included 1) sleeping until I awoke, without the aid of an alarm, 2) running six miles, preferably with energy and enthusiasm, 3) attending to two personal matters that HAD to be dealt with today, one involving online research and a phone call, the second involving a trip to the courthouse, and 4) attending a wine club “members only” Halloween Party for free wine tasting, fun and debauchery. Treat.

On point number 1; the street out front appears to be done. The City of Napa has been replacing sidewalks and gutters where the tree roots of the nearly fifty-year-old Chinese Pistachio trees have leavened them like an angel food cake. For whatever reason, the tractors and jack hammers and dump trucks and loud men all begin work, in front of my house, where the work appears to be “done”, in a residential area, at some time before 7:00 AM. And, my luck, it’s fucking Thursday, and today is the only day, for months to come, that I have any hope of sleeping in past 7:00 AM Pacific Daylight Time. Thursday is “garbage day”, which actually means the garbage trucks, an entire fleet of them, arrive at 6:00 AM, or so, and start groaning and slamming through the streets, dumping everyone’s discards into their cavernous guts with an alarming racket. Cross point number one off my list as pointless and futile. Happy Halloween, I AM the walking dead. Trick.

Number 2; run six miles. I slip out of bed like “The Ooze”, rummage through my perpetually packed suitcase for my beloved slippers and somehow navigate downstairs and manage to fix a fairly nutritious and almost delicious breakfast in spite of the fact I haven’t grocery shopped in weeks and wont’, because I’m on the road, again, next week. And the next. And the next. And the next. Until nearly Christmas. Mom joins me and we begin her favorite game; devils advocate. Happy Halloween! The devil is here, ready to respond to everything I say with some sort of point, counterpoint or possible argument. I’m tired. I don’t want to play. I can debate with anyone, I can defend my strongly held convictions and deeply rooted beliefs with anyone, almost anytime. Just not today. I feel challenged and defensive and exhausted I just want to … go upstairs and answer mind-numbing work emails on topics like Microsoft Word headers not functioning correctly in our workpaper manager software. Kill me. But I do this for an hour, until the URGENT !!! email comes in that says we HAVE TO HAVE our October expenses in by EOB (end of business) today. Well. Okay. I will take the two hours to complete a tedious and uncooperative online form, attaching images of receipts for every expense, no matter the triviality of the expense, so my company can reimburse me for all the credit card charges I’ve incurred and must, personally, pay, for my extensive travel. Twist my arm. It’s the tedium of the process that almost makes me say “f” it, I’ll just cover it out of pocket. But I don’t’. And by now it’s 1:00 PM. And I’m still in my pajamas, drinking cold, weak, bitter, black coffee. I’m in sweats, actually, that’s what I sleep in when I’m not with my Sweetie. I could, by today’s standards, go to the grocery store, the bank, a college campus, a restaurant, shopping, I could take an airline flight, in what I’m wearing; grotesquely baggy sweatpants, slippers and my boyfriend’s thermal t-shirt advertising a brewery in Fairbanks, Alaska. But I’m old school. I usually shower and get dressed before leaving the house. Hell, I usually shower and dress even if I don’t leave the house. I have some self-respect. Normally. Trick? Treat? Trick, I guess.

Finally, because I can’t stand myself anymore, I go and put my running tights and jersey on, lace up my shoes, pull my hair into a tight pony tail which I pull through the hole in the back of my running hat. I fill my bladder bag and strap on my Garmin watch. I answer another email, finish another expense report and decide I’d better have lunch before running. I’m out of fuel. Breakfast was hours ago. I find a frozen stuffed pepper in my freezer, reheat it, eat it, brush my teeth and head for the car. I run my “usual” six-mile loop and it’s like I haven’t run in years! All I can think about is the next walk break. I run for five minutes and walk for one, at a pace ranging from eleven minutes per mile to twelve minutes per mile. I’m old. I’m tired. That’s what I do. Right now, with about four weeks to go until my first full marathon, I just want to pile on miles and not hurt myself. I could care less about speed right now. I just want to finish. And live. But I don’t feel like I can finish six miles, alive, today. I guess you could say that today, I finished my first “zombie run”, except it wasn’t a race with energetic participants in gory costumes, it was me, lurching along like Frankenstein, for six, long, miles. Treat, actually. The sense of accomplishment made it all worthwhile.

I make it home, stinky, sweaty and even more tired, and it’s after 3:00 PM. I’ve taken care of the one point of personal business, on the phone, but I still have to go to the courthouse. And they close at 4:00. I wouldn’t be caught dead at the courthouse in my baggy sweats and my boyfriend’s shirt, but I’ll go sweaty and stinky in Lycra running pants! It was my only choice, there was no time for unpacking all my shower stuff and makeup stuff and hairdryers and straightening irons and curling irons and then showering and then employing all said items in order to look human. It’s Halloween! This is my costume! Living Dead in Lycra! Scary! Right? Treat, I guess; it’s a glass half full perspective.

I get my business done, fairly quickly. I only had to wait in line behind one person, a tiny and very young lady, who was attempting to complete papers to file for divorce from her husband, Stephen, the father of her child. How do I know it’s “Stephen” with a “ph” and not “Steven” with a “v”? Am I that assumptive? No, she has “Stephen”, with a “ph” tattooed, painfully, I’m sure, on the top of her foot. And socks are so not in fashion with skinny jeans and flats! I didn’t want to tap her on the shoulder and say, “honey, it’s almost November, boots are cool, if you want to cover up that “Stephen” of yours.” Um, trick?

Home. And, damn, I’m hungry again. I fix dinner and tell Mom about my plans for my costume for the wine club, free wine-tasting, costume party. A gypsy. I can wear my favorite super comfy skirt, a little more makeup than usual, a few scarves tied around my waist like a sash, all the jewelry I own, and offer to read people’s palms! She suggests I wear her clown outfit with the red, curly wig and the nose. She suggests I wear her witch costume with a tall, stiff hat and a hot, rubber mask. She suggests I wear my dad’s chambray shirt, jeans and a blonde wig that he wore to be something she couldn’t quite remember at an RV club party twenty years ago. I’m not getting any of this. And, geez, no wonder my shit is still in boxes in the middle of the floor in my room! Apparently the dresser drawers and closets are full of frumpy costumes from the past five decades. For two.  Trick.

I’m tired. I don’t want to wear my dad’s chambray shirt and a blonde wig. I decide not to go. It’s just easier, and I’m tired. I finish dinner, and dishes and think about trick or treating. It would be a real trick to find enough energy to get dressed up and ready and go to a Halloween party, alone, and be engaging and energetic and charismatic. A real trick. I decide on treat, and take a nice, hot bubble bath. I listen to an audiobook I’m half way through and am totally enjoying. I set my plastic Vino Volo glass full of cab sav on the edge of the tub. Might I mention that this bathtub and I do not get along. This tub is nearly fifty years old, though it looks brand new, because no one ever used it, and for good reason. Unlike new tubs, it has actual real estate on two corners, ample enough acreage for a bargain size bottle of Paul Mitchell shampoo, and a bargain size bottle of Paul Mitchell conditioner, face wash, body wash, a loofah, a razor and a glass of wine, or coffee, depending on the time of the shower. But, like many other pieces of real estate I’ve owned in my life, it’s too steep to be useful. True, it looks fine, until you try to actually use it, then the bottles all slide and tumble into the tub, one after the other. I’ve taken to setting the bottles on the floor, next to the tub, when I shower, and retrieving them and replacing them, one by one, in the order used. I don’t’ often take bubble baths, I don’t’ normally like to sit that still for that long. Who, beside me, takes a three-minute bubble bath? I take shorter bubble baths than showers! You can ask my Sweetie, it’s true! But, tonight, for whatever reason, I was able to just sit in the warm water and soak. I bet I was in the tub for a full ten, maybe even fifteen minutes. And, just how long do you think it took for my plastic Vino Volo glass of cab sav to slide along that stupid, generously sized but overly sloped tub edge and into the tub? Right! About ten seconds! I’ve heard that wine, in your bath, is very good for your skin. We’ll see. If I look younger and more radiant tomorrow, we’ll know! I managed to save a third of the wine, because I’m fast like that, and I clung, tightly, to my glass, while enjoying my audio book and being in a place where no one, on the phone or in person, was going to play devil’s advocate with me. Bliss. Treat.

My lesson for today; feeling a wee bit grumpy, tired, a little out of sorts, with some thought and self reflection, I decided it’s because I have been working very slowly, but very diligently, towards a number of goals, simultaneously. Career goals, relationship goals, financial goals, spiritual goals, fitness goals, nutrition goals. So many goals. For weeks, months, years, even, I have been just plinking away at these goals. They require a cannonball and I’ve been firing at them, monotonously, for years, with a child-sized, pellet gun. But, it seems, I am making progress. This week, for the first time in a long time, I could actually feel that I’ve made some significant progress. Every fall, for whatever reason, I sort of gird my loins and fight a little harder towards my long-term goals, and, this week, I actually felt like I was on the brink of some measurable progress. But, I am not there yet. I am so close, but not there. I have tossed all the knives into the air, I am standing, looking up, squinting and shielding myself as the knives all finish their arc up, pause, and begin their fall towards, well, me. Now, I’ve got to catch them all! Or, at the very least, dodge them. The “future” is frustratingly close, uncertain and a little scary. Boo! And, as a result, I keep catching myself “future focused”, rather than being present. This causes anxiety.

The real reason I didn’t go to the Halloween bash dressed, comfortably and fashionably, as a gypsy, was because I have that pain in my neck, again. Every fall, about the time I start girding my loins and fighting a little harder towards my long-term goals, I get a pinched nerve in my upper back that is excruciating. It takes weekly massages and chiropractic care, for months, to unknot them. This is all anxiety driven, I am sure. So, today, I caught myself, and reflected back on a handful of books I consider constant and vital resources in my life library. “The Power of Now”, of course, by Eckhart Tolle and “The Soulmate Experience” by Joe Dunn and Mali Apple, both of which I have read multiple times and have recently purchased on Audible and have thoroughly enjoyed listening to driving to and from the airport. Another, and one I’m about half way through for the first time, “The Charisma Myth: How Anyone Can Master the Art and Science of Personal Magnetism” by Olivia Fox Cabane. And last, but not least, Jillian Michael’s “Slim for Life”.

In “The Charisma Myth”, Olivia Fox Cabane provides a valuable pointer for staying present, one of the three necessary qualities for being charismatic, she says you should wiggle your toes when you are listening to others speak. By wiggling your toes, you are in the moment, you are present, and you appear, to the speaker, to be actively listening and engaged, which all charismatic people are.

Jillian. Jillian, Jillian, Jillian. Her books have changed my life, the others that followed have added, immeasurably, but I would never have begun my journey, my effort, towards personal improvement, had it not been for Jillian Michaels. To some, at first, she seems hard to take seriously. But, seriously; plain, matter of fact, backed with facts, passionate, clear advice. After her first book, in my household, WWJD, which a few years earlier stood for “what would Jesus do?” became WWJD, “what would Jillian do?” In Jillian’s latest book, “Slim for Life,” she talks a bit about the importance of core strength and posture. We all slouch. I slouch. I’ve seen pictures. Recently.

So, I’ve taken the very practical and important advice from “The Charisma Myth” about doing something physical to stay “present”, rooted in the moment, in the now, and I’ve combined it with Jillian’s advice on core strength and posture. So, to remind myself to remain present, while I may be wiggling my toes, unless I’m wearing flip flops, in which case, I may appear a bit weird, I tighten my core and stand very straight and erect, I flex every core muscle I can discern, and this keeps me focused, a bit more, on the present moment, where I should be, where there are no regrets of the past or anxieties of the future.

The point, here, is to live only in the present. The present is the only point in time in which we have any power. We cannot make any changes to anything that has happened in the past. No amount of regret or remorse will ever change anything that has happened. Make your peace with that, apologize, if need, forgive where necessary, and leave it in the past. Likewise, no amount of worry or thought about the future, now, will have any positive affect, other than to deprive you of the only time you do have to make an impact, now. Remaining so focused on the future not only deprives us of the present, now, and, ultimately, our life, it creates unnecessary anxiety. No amount of worry ever had any positive affect on the future. To the contrary, actually, if you are at all aware or familiar with the concept of the power of thought and manifestation. What you believe, you can conceive, to quote Brian Tracy. If we believe only anxiety driven worries and fears about the future, the energy and focus and though we believe is more likely to manifest than the opposite, or the actual, desired, outcome.  There is energy in thought, and energy will attract energy. So, negative, anxious thoughts about some undesired outcome is much more likely to attract that negative outcome than positive, affirming thoughts. This may sound all “new world, touchy-feely, spirituality”, but, hey, what have we got to lose? Anxiety? Pain? Discomfort? Unrest? It is so worth the try. And, from my standpoint, I swear by it. Standing straight, core muscles flexed, wiggling my toes, focusing on the moment, the present and thinking positive. Treat.

 

Scarlett’s Letter September 28, 2013

I was up early and ready for the flight home. A direct flight from Newark to San Francisco. I slept mostly, blissfully. And I dreamt of reusable Taco Bell burrito wrappers. I can’t explain that.  I still marvel, after all the frequent flier miles I’ve accrued, at waking on one side of the country and having lunch on the other. It still amazes me.

It was an excruciatingly slow drive home from Sacramento, I almost wished I was back in New Jersey, where at least the traffic moves. I identify with Jersey drivers. Like me, they drive with intent, and if you ever spend any time in a car with me at the wheel, you will hear me encourage, implore, even beg other drivers to “drive with intention!” It’s a lot better than some things I could shout at them, am I right? I will happily let people in front of me from driveways, I allow people to merge. Yes, I’m a defensive and sometimes aggressive driver, but I am courteous and safe. I have little tolerance for those who drive fearfully, those who don’t show some assertiveness and especially those who don’t display courtesy. I think drivers should show “assertousy”, equal parts assertiveness and courtesy. And, really, is life itself any different. We should live with intention, pursue our goal assertively and always show courtesy. That’s the lesson in life I considered today, as I listened raptly to Jillian Michael’s on Audible reading her book “Unlimited”. I feel inspired to reevaluate my goals and my methods for pursuing them. I feel energized by her words and energy. She makes sense, and not just related to fitness, food and health, but to life, the universe and our place in the universe. Another book I highly recommend.

When I got home all I could think about was food, like a big, fat hamburger or something equally appalling, especially after spending the last couple of hours immersed in Jillian’s Audible aura. Mom and I decided on Downtown Joe’s, a restaurant and brewery at Main and Second Streets in Napa, right along the Napa River. It was quite warm today, but we preferred sitting outside, along the river, if possible. We were offered a seat with a little umbrella, it needed bussing, first, but was ours immediately thereafter. I let Mom have the two square feet of shade provided by the small market umbrella, the small, poorly designed market umbrella that did not have the option to be tilted so as to provide more shade based on the angle of the sun. I like the sun. I sat in the sun. Mom has had chunks of face and appendages carved off of her in an endless catch up battle with skin cancer. I am probably going to suffer the same plight, but for now, I’ll soak up the sun, but only because of the stupid, little, inadequate market umbrella and because I always have about three layers of SPF on my face.

When I was younger, but old enough to drink, this was called the Oberon. We called it the "Slobber On", because we knew we would probably be slobbered on by some guy at some point during the evening.
When I was younger, but old enough to drink, this was called the Oberon. We called it the “Slobber On”, because we knew we would probably be slobbered on by some guy at some point during the evening.
A sunny seat next to the Napa River.
A sunny seat next to the Napa River.

An Effort to Evolve

Sounds good to me!
Sounds good to me!
The "Slobber On", I mean Downtown Joe's bar inside.
The “Slobber On”, I mean Downtown Joe’s bar inside.

Being a brewery, I perused the beer list with great enthusiasm. I decided first on the stout, knowing I’d have to have the porter shortly thereafter, it was impossible to decide on only one at the exclusion of the other. I’d really planned on a burger, but the “Steak and Fritz” caught my eye, a rich sounding mélange of steak, steak fries and gravy. It all lived up to my expectations; the stout, the porter, the very rich and fattening meal. Jillian would probably throw insults at me until I cried if she observed what I just did to myself. Ah, but she is human, too, and I know my limits and I know when, and how, to repent for my occasional sins. And I shall.

BEER MENU!
BEER MENU!
The Old Magnolia Oatmeal Stout, first. The porter next.
The Old Magnolia Oatmeal Stout, first. The porter next.
The "Steak and Fritz", more commonly known as SIN!
The “Steak and Fritz”, more commonly known as SIN!
The Overdue Porter behind a wall of fries.
The Overdue Porter behind a wall of fries.

Just not today. It was a simple, but sedentary day. I’d had every intention of working out when I got home, but the two pints of beer and large meal, a very early morning after a fairly short night, a long flight and detailed expense report all interfered. I can do a long, detailed expense report after two pints and little sleep, I could probably run, too, so, I guess it was just a matter of priorities. Running wasn’t going to reimburse me nearly $3,000 for travel expenses this past week. I considered the day a success, at these accomplishments and, my dietary indiscretions still weighing heavily on my mind, I decided to make my late lunch at Downtown Joe’s dinner, too, as I had no desire, initiative, or caloric budget for any semblance of an actual dinner. I just let it go, and sometimes there is wisdom in that.

There are days, most days, where we tirelessly do everything we are supposed to, follow our rules, our plan, accomplish all the things on our never-ending list. Then, there are days where we let a few things go. And that’s okay, if it’s the exception and not the rule. Even highly effective people let things go and they realize the wisdom in that. The “stop and smell the roses” theory. We can be so driven, so on task all the time that we miss the point of our all or action, our activity. The point being, life, and living it. Every now and then, living life to its fullest is sitting still and just breathing, sitting still and just listening, sitting still and just thinking. Just letting it go and gathering it all up again, tomorrow, after some reflection and refreshment, some rest and rejuvenation. And that was this evening’s wisdom. This evening’s to-do list. Nothing. Check.

Scarlett’s Letter September 23, 2013

Travel day. OMG. Already. Weekend? What weekend?

My alarm went off at 12:30 AM. Hello? 12:30 AM. I got up, got ready and was out the door. It’s not like I even blow dried my hair and curled it, I wrapped my dripping wet hair in a ponytail and wore my clothes from yesterday. Seriously.

Regarding my clothes from yesterday. I felt absolutely rockin’ hot yesterday. As the Chelly song goes, “my hair done right, my dress real life, all eyes on me, I took the night.” Google it. Ever have one of those days where you just feel totally put together and you can see people see you? That was yesterday. So, after about no sleep and in the midst of the usual morning “what shall I wear today”, though technically still the middle of the night, I decided on yesterday’s outfit, because it was all that! And it was right there, folded neatly in a little pile, next to my bed, where I left it a few short hours ago. The only revision, the bra. Yesterday I wore my miracle Frederick’s of Hollywood bra that is just so amazing. But, truthfully, the price we women pay for that kind of amazing, it is a little less comfortable than my pretty little floral and glitter number from Victoria’s Secret, and considering my cross country flight and all, I opted for Vickie over Freddy, and, well, the results left me feeling a little less than all that. It’s kind of frightening what a minor wardrobe change can do to one’s self esteem. I was all that yesterday and ho-hum today. In my mind.

Oh, but I’m not a bus driver at Sacramento International Airport! I am all that, and even in a lumpy and less than supportive bra. I have a following. I don’t know what it is about bus drivers at the airport, but they LOVE me.  Every bus driver from the economy lot, where I park Meep (my Civic), to the terminals, absolutely loves me. Except the Caucasian guy. Most of them love me. It may have something to do with the fact that I always sit right by the driver’s seat, but, only because I am quite soft spoken and it’s just so much easier on everyone if I can, conversationally, tell the bus driver where I need to stop, rather than shouting it from the back of the bus only to not be heard and then having to walk a half a mile to my car. Right? So, I sit right up front. Ok, so I also tip. Not a lot, just a couple of bucks. But I always tip. Always. As a result, or the reason I tip, sort of an egg and chicken first kind of scenario; the bus driver jumps out of his seat and lifts my bags onto the bus, which, by the way, I am perfectly capable of doing. Heck, I’ve already hoisted them down two flights of stairs and loaded them into a Civic, not a Lincoln or a Cadillac, a frickin’ Civic. After parking the Civic, I’ve hoisted the tightly wedged suitcases, yes, multiple suitcases, each very carefully packed so as to fall just below the fifty pound limit, but barely, out of the car and onto the pavement. At this point, I very cleverly and handily wheel them to the bus stop. Wheeling multiple suitcases should be an Olympic sport. I’d win. No doubt. So, yes, if I had to lift them onto and then, again, off of the bus, myself, I could. And, in fact, since I am kind of a fitness freak, I could probably, actually do so more handily than the bus drivers, but, sssshhhhhhh. Before I have a chance to even grab the handles on my suitcases, they have been snatched from my grasp and placed carefully on the bus. I take my seat by the front of the bus, immediately adjacent to the driver and take up small talk with him, and, yes, occasionally, her. This is not something I initiate, but I do speak candidly with the bus driver if and when the bus driver initiates conversation. No one else on the bus, by my observations, has ever spoken to the bus driver. Whatever; sports, the weather, traffic, kids, travel. It matters not the topic, I will happily talk to the bus driver while I jot my parking space down on my ticket so I’ll be able to refer to it upon my return, and while I check in on Foursquare, Yelp, Facebook and Twitter. So, the bus driver has 98.3% of my attention because I am multi-tasking. I am also, surreptitiously, pulling a couple of bills out of my wallet to have handy as a tip when the bus driver helps unload my suitcases. And, I am certain, they have surreptitiously spotted me doing so. No matter. It’s only a couple of bucks, and I can expense it on my company expense report. And when I do travel for pleasure and can’t expense it, I still tip. I appreciate their assistance and they appreciate the recognition. It’s a win/win.

In fact, on one trip home, as I was met, with jubilation, by my favorite bus driver and he hoisted my two ultra-heavy suitcases on board, and then, when I arrived at my stop, jumped up to help me unload them, an angry and belligerent looking, middle-aged (my age) woman, overweight, unmade up, wearing ugly, unflattering sweats and a bitter expression and a pretty much pissed off at the world attitude, made some snide remark about how the bus driver helped me with my bags, but not hers, because I was “pretty”. I was pretty human, that’s all. Well, I’m 99.9% certain the bus driver would’ve helped her with her bags had she had the patience, but, yes, my bags were first, not because I was “pretty”, as she complained, but because I was fucking NICE to the bus driver. Hello? Hostile woman person, try being nice! Golden rule, love! Golden rule. Pretty has nothing to do with it. Be nice and get nice in return.

Pretty has nothing to do with it. Really, because I was not feeling it today, and, still, for my two dollar tip and a little small talk, I got my bags loaded onto the bus and off. And, I was told I don’t look a day over thirty, and, am “hotter than most twenty-somethings”. Two dollars. My customary tip is two dollars. Buy yourself a compliment for two dollars and you feel like a million the rest of the day even if your bra makes you feel deflated and lumpy.

I had a short and miserable flight from Sacramento to L.A. on AmericaWest, a contractor with United. My dear friend, who I’ve known, literally, since kindergarten, is married to a man who has worked for United maintaining their aircraft for, well, since we’ve been out of high school. A hell of a long time. Whenever I see him, which is not nearly often enough, I tease him, “Peter, are you taking good care of my airplanes?” He reassures me. “Yes, just don’t fly AmericaWest”, or this airline, or that, or any other airline other than United. I try, really I do. But I fly out of Sacramento, not a major hub by any stretch of the imagination. I am, more often than not, going to have to fly AmericaWest to San Fran or L.A. to make my connection to the real world. Peter says nothing, just widens his eyes a little, which, I’m sure, makes me widen my eyes. A lot.

So I boarded my AmericaWest flight to L.A., crossing myself, and I figured, whatever. Whatever happens, happens. Of course, we make it without any drama, except, where everyone, except me, tries, in vain, to stuff their too large of a carry on into the overhead compartment of the small regional jet with microscopic overhead compartments. I couldn’t even fit my tiny cross-body purse in, if I tried. I don’t even try. Everyone is frantically trying to stuff their crap into the overheads before the flight attendant confiscates their luggage and has it gate checked. Don’t look at me, I check my bags. And so, we are delayed.

Getting up at 12:30 AM, obviously, I did not make it to the gym before departing. Now, I used to belong to 24-Hour Fitness, when I lived in Sacramento, and I could have, technically, made it to the gym before heading to the airport. You know, and I know, that never happened. But it could have and that was worth paying extra for; a 24/7 gym. In Napa, there is no 24-Hour Fitness, much to my despair, and the gym I did join has, by comparison, extremely limited hours. So, my point, no, I didn’t go to the gym today. So, the sprint I made between Terminal 8 and Terminal 6 at LAX with my forty-pound computer backpack and my electronic laden purse in order to even make my flight to Newark was my workout for the day. I arrived at the gate for my Newark flight in need of oxygen and defibrillation.

I made it, though. I didn’t get a free first class upgrade, which, truthfully, kind of pissed me off. But, I am on the commuter flight; L.A. to NYC. There are people sitting in first class that make this flight multiple times a week, who am I to think I rank in their numbers. I only do the west coast to east coast thing a couple of times a month! So, I take my seat in coach. Well, and God love United for this, not exactly coach, I get “Economy Plus” seating for no extra charge. I have status. Economy Plus is five extra inches of leg space, which also equates to tray table/laptop space even when the jerk in front of you reclines all the way. And, as a karma thing, I NEVER recline, it’s just not nice. Ever. There is nothing worse than having your red wine and your cheese, fruit and crackers perched on the flimsy tray, almost on top of your laptop, which cost almost as much as a semester of your children’s’ college education, and the asshole in front of you reclines their seat six inches. It doesn’t just thrust your laptop, wine, fruit and cheese towards your white, dry-clean only blouse at an alarming rate, it, 9 times out of 10, pins your laptop in a manner that it takes all of the gay, male flight attendants’ brute strength, combined, to try to dislodge it. Then the hetero female flight attendant comes along and deftly snaps it free, single handedly, while demonstrating the finer points of using the emergency oxygen mask. I really just want to know how to score oxygen even when there isn’t a sudden loss of cabin pressure. Do you think a two-dollar tip and a chatty conversation would suffice? How well does red wine and a healthy dose of oxygen mix?

Anyway. I’m in Economy Plus, thank God, for the next six hours, from L.A. to Newark, NJ. I really prefer booking my cross-country flight from Sacramento to Chicago, or Denver, both United hubs, then to my east coast destination. I like being able to get off the plane after three or four hours and eating real food, peeing in a real toilet, and walking on real ground. But, because of the nature of how my company has been scheduling my work lately, I have been booking flights within a week of departure. I have no options. When you require your employees to travel 70% of the time, best to take into consideration their likely travel experiences, because the more their travel experiences suck, the more likely they’ll quit, via email, while stranded in an airport in the middle of the night, without their luggage. Just saying.

So, I’m on this flight for the next six hours. I boarded late even after sprinting through the airport. The two seats next to me are vacant and I don’t dare hope they’ll remain that way. But I do. I scrutinize every person that boards the plane, I watch them as they negotiate their way down the aisle, reading the row and seat number, and hoping, against all hope, that they aren’t seated next to me. Rare, but lovely, are the flights where I have the whole row to myself. I don’t mind small talk, as evidenced by my bus driver entourage. Six hours of small talk, though, on only a few hours of sleep, is a bit more than I can consent to. I am hoping for an empty row, something alcoholic and uninterrupted sleep until I feel the jolt of the wheels hit the ground in Newark. Hey, a girl can dream!

They’ve made the “doors closing” and “electronics off” announcement, a couple of times. They’ve briefed the exit rows, even. And, still, the two seats next to me are vacant. I am hopeful, but still vigilant in watching for more passengers to board. I am in the aisle seat, of course, that is my preference. On a six-hour flight, I’d die if I didn’t have the aisle seat. Die. I’d die a horrible and very theatrical death, I assure you. I might make headlines, “passenger goes crazy, (insert newsworthy behavior here)” if I didn’t have the aisle seat.

A foreign couple boards the plane within seconds of the door actually being closed. In the slowest motion possible, they walk down the aisle. I’m only in the third row from the door, so it is extremely slow motion. They are looking left, then right, at the row and seat numbers. I marvel at that, once you’ve got the ABC’s and the DEF’s down, it’s all numbers, and in sequence, but, still, their heads swivel, in unison, right, left, right, left. They arrive at my row and, in unison, look at their tickets, look at the placard over my row, look at their tickets, look at the placard. They finally figure out it’s a “bingo”, they smile and, rather than letting me stand to allow them access to their seats, which I am happy to do, and, in fact, prefer, they insist on climbing over me. I hate that, it just feels so, lap dance. I’m all for lap dances, but I’d prefer to choose my participants, thank you. And, there is only one person I’d really like to give a lap dance to, and he isn’t on this flight. Sadly. Newark isn’t his kind of town. Nor mine.

They take their seats and my dreams of a row to myself are quashed. Worse. They begin snuggling and canoodling and displaying all kinds of PDA, which, again, I’m a fan of, if it’s me and my guy, but for anyone else, and especially people I am within inches of for the next six hours, um, ew.

We finally take off and as soon as is allowed, I have my defense shield up. My defense shield; devices that require my attention so as not to have to pay attention to anyone in my immediate proximity. iPod, iPad, Kindle, iPhone, heck, iPhones (2), and ear buds. I know, ear buds are weak. If you really want immunity you need noise cancellation. I’m just torn between Bose and Beats by Dr. Dre. Truth, I’m torn between Bose, Beats by Dr. Dre and paying my bills next month. And let’s not even talk about where in my forty pound electronics backpack, also known as my personal Best-Buy-in-a-Bag, I am going to be able to wedge these much larger than ear buds noise cancellation headphones! But how many flights have I endured where I could have blissfully sat, in silence, or listening to something wonderful, more wonderful than fucking screaming children!? Worth the price, for certain. But, I still haven’t invested. Why? Because every flight, I swear, is my last. Although, as I think about it, those noise cancellation headphones would, indeed, cancel out noise at home, too, right? Like television? And ringing telephones? And …

With my defense shield up and the couple next to me likely conceiving their first child, in flight, I manage to get a whole bunch of shit done! I am just on fire! Ideas are coming to me, I am jotting them down in Evernote. I am drafting emails that will magically fly off into cyberspace as soon as I turn off “plane mode” when we land. I am reading, writing and quasi-communicating, all the while, not paying attention to what is happening in the two seats adjacent to mine. I am grateful that they are speaking a language I do not understand, nor a language I can almost decipher. They are not speaking a romance language. I’m glad. I don’t want to know.

Wherever they are from, they have incredibly small bladders. They are up and down, climbing over me before I can move, in order to use the restrooms. I did notice, they went individually, otherwise, had they gone to the bathroom together, I might have forced my way up to the first class bathroom to pee, again, likely making national network news for my abhorrent and deviant behavior.

After a period of time that seemed way too long, by my estimation, the flight attendants rolled their little carts down the aisle. I’d had my customary oatmeal, banana and coffee from Starbucks at SMF (Sacramento International Airport) at 4:15 AM, in spite of the fact that they open, officially, at 4:30 AM. This is my secret, this is why I am always first in line; I know they will open early, so I start the line at 4:10 AM. But it is now after 9:00 AM PDT. So, I’m hungry! I read the menu carefully. The menus on airlines are intended solely for highly literate people! Only certain selections are available on certain flights based on any of several factors, including, but not limited to, flight duration, flight direction, flight destination and time of day, although it does not specify time zone. I like the cheese, cracker and fruit tray, even with the nasty glob of wilted greens, I don’t eat them, of course, I scrape them off the cheese and pretend they aren’t actually moving on the plastic wrapper where I’ve discarded them. The fruit and cheese platter, for whatever reason, is not available on this fight, some algorithmic function of time, duration, destination, direction and an unpublished and unquantifiable variable applied arbitrarily by someone at Skychef.

I find, instead, the “high-energy breakfast” consisting of a whole-wheat roll, Justin’s Nut Butter, and you know I’m a fan of Justin and his Nut Butter! There is also a chunk of cheese and some grapes. I wait, somewhat impatiently, for the flight attendant and the food cart. Everyone seated in the rows ahead of me are 1) non-English speaking and/or 2) are obtuse. They don’t know to look at the menu in the damn magazine even after the flight attendant announced it three separate times. It takes forever, but, finally, I am asked the ever-important question “food?” Yes! And I place my order. I also ordered a red wine to go with my “breakfast”. This raised many an unmanicured eyebrow in the surrounding seats in coach. Oh, sure, if you’re in first class there are more bloody marys, screwdrivers and mimosas than passengers, but in coach, this is brow raising? Firstly, this is not my breakfast, I had breakfast, with coffee at Starbucks five hours ago. Second, is this flight not landing in the Eastern Time zone? So, maybe I set my watch ahead three hours at boarding rather than landing and this, is, in fact, after noon (EDT). Wine with lunch is acceptable, right? Whatever. I enjoy my wine and my boxed airplane food.

Airplane food and wine. Flying coach at its finest.
Airplane food and wine. Flying coach at its finest.

My productivity continues for a bit, I am enjoying my Kindle book, I read the WSJ on my iPad, jot down a few more ideas in Evernote. I am blissfully productive. The couple next to me have fallen asleep, intertwined. I order another wine and stick my tongue out at the people across the aisle staring at me. Okay, I didn’t actually stick my tongue out, but I thought about it. Airline wine is not so fine, but it is nearly palatable, though, for red, a little too chilled. It is better than nothing.

Airplane food and wine. Flying coach at its finest.
Airplane food and wine. Flying coach at its finest.

We arrive in Newark on schedule and deplane. Now my week in New Jersey officially begins. Considering I was originally supposed to be in New York City this week, I am pouting at the relocation of our training session. I always say I hate Jersey, and I actually don’t. I hate Newark. I’m working twenty miles outside of Newark in Saddle Brook, an area I’ve been to before. But, still, it is a far cry from NYC. I’m still going to pout. I make my way through the airport, claim my luggage and take the train to the rental cars. I choose my car, nothing spectacular, a Chrysler 200, and I mentally prepare myself for my drive through Newark at 5:00 PM. New Jersey driving is, if you’ve never experienced it, a whole new ball game. I know the rules, now, and I adopt my best Jersey Turnpike sneer and my take no bullshit attitude as I turn the key in the ignition, put the car in drive and head for the highway and Jersey traffic. I can do this, it’s all in the attitude.

And, so, that’s my take away for today. We really can do anything we set our minds to. We can get up at 12:30 AM and function. We can live by the golden rule and make our way through life being charming and as a result, lead a somewhat charmed life. We can get a lot accomplished in confined quarters without Internet, if we just put our mind to it. We can have wine at nine because it is noon, somewhere, after all. And, most importantly, we can overcome fear and intimidation and drive with the best of them in New Jersey. Anything at all we want or need to accomplish is within our grasp if we just have some resolve. This applies to long-term goals, short-term goals, wishes, wants, hopes, desires and dreams. “Whatever the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve.” ― Napoleon Hill.