No rain, No rainbows

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I don’t like rainy days, and I don’t think anybody does. I’m sure that some people prefer the rain, but like most people I’d rather have some sunshine, instead.

I was recently in California with my family on vacation. It’s a land of unspeakable beauty, and I envy the people who are lucky enough to live there. But they’re also in the midst of a drought that is threatening to change many things. Water is a precious resource, and if the rains aren’t falling, that’s not good.

There’s a saying in Hawaii that I added as the title for this post. It means that if you want good and beautiful things, you need to put up with the unpleasant things first. If you don’t eat your meat, you can’t have any pudding. Something like that.

There was a tiny little bit of rain that fell when we were in Monterey, in the middle part of our trip. California needs more rain than what fell that day, but the end result was a tiny little sliver of a rainbow that emerged as my daughter was doing gymnastic flips on the beach near Cannery Row. And the wisdom of the Hawaiians hit me all over again. The rainbow was an added bonus that made an Incredibly lovely place even more so.

I wish many more rainbows for California in the days and months ahead. They will beautify the state, of course, but they desperately need what causes them, too.

A goal for the Earth

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I wanted to put some thoughts about Earth Day yesterday, but time got away from me and I got some sleep for a change. Maybe there’s Earth Week to give people like me a bit of a break on that score.

I love this planet. It’s filled with so many great and wonderful things that everyone can enjoy. But I hate what’s been done to it, past and present. Like Jim Morrison once said, What have they done to the earth, our fair sister?

We need to do better. All of us, myself included, do things that aren’t in the Earth’s best interest. Using less plastic would be a good start, as I learned recently on a trip to the aquarium in Monterey Bay. Using less means that less of it will end up out in the ecosystem, to poison birds and fish who aren’t doing anything worse than looking for something to eat.

So less plastics, it is. I’ll report on my progress here, from time to time. And the differences might be small, but I can do it and so I will. Our home is worthy of the effort.

Inside the landscape

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California is filled with beautiful places, and I’m pointing one out in this shot. Panoramics usually don’t render very well on a computer screen, but to know that I was in such a place–and wide awake at the time–is a pretty awesome feeling.

Playing a new game

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A few days before my family and I left for a vacation in California, my little one told me that she had been reading my blog, and it made her sad. It’s certainly not something that I wanted to hear, so I decided to ask her why.

“You tell stories about the run and jump and other things we don’t do anymore, and I miss them” she told me.

I told her that I wrote stories here so that she and I could have a record of them, and if we outgrew them one day–and we’re bound to do with most things–we can look back at them fondly. And if some stranger we’ve never met before wants to read the stories, that’s OK too. Better to have the stories than to rely on our memories, which are wonderful things but are not always as reliable as they could be.

My reply seemed to satisfy her, and I was reminded of our conversation a few days later, when we were on a beach near Pacific Grove, California. We were on the 17 Mile Drive, which I had never heard of before and now I’ll hardly ever forget it. But there’s a story to tell that I hope she finds some day.

The waves came crashing in, as they always have done before, and the two of us decided to turn this experience into a race. We would walk out toward the water as the wave was coming in, and after it crashed and the water came ashore, we’d begin to backpedal, all the while saying “back…back…back” as if this would keep the water away from us.

A successful round was going all the way back before the water reached your toes or–in my case–your shoes. It was fun because even if you misjudged the wave’s size or speed, the worst that would happen is some surprisingly cold water would touch your feet. With all of the hardships in the world, a few moments of trying to outrun an ocean wave felt like a rare treat.

We called our game “Back…Back…Back” and I’d be surprised if we ever had an occasion to play the game again. But it marked our time on the beach that day, and proved to me that while some games might be outgrown or cast aside, our love and our ingenuity never will.

View from a cable car

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The cable cars in San Francisco are a singular experience in a singular city. I loved the days that I spent here, and I’m sad to be leaving now for the flat city that I call home.

I’m a Chicago guy, but the experiences I’ve had here will stay with me forever. I understand the old Tony Bennett song more than I ever did, and I haven’t even left the airport yet. I can only hope that it won’t take me forty-some years to get back here again.

A lifestyle change for the better

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There once was a time when Jack Daniel’s was my faithful traveling partner. At the end of a day of meetings, when going home to my family wasn’t an option, I went back to a hotel room and a bottle of Jack, instead.

But everything changes in life, and over the past decade I’ve given up both television and alcohol. My business traveling has dwindled as well, and I’m glad to say that Jack won’t be traveling with me ever again.

The bottle shown here has maybe two shots left in it, and they’ve been fermenting in place for several years now. Part of me wants to pour it down the drain, to remove any temptation to renew old acquaintances. Another part of me–the part that’s winning so far–sees it as a victory of sorts.

So long as the last of the Jack Daniel’s remains exactly where it is, I’ve won out over the biggest foe of my lifetime. His name is not Jack Daniel’s, but the one that I write at the bottom of every check I ever fill out. And while Jack has remained who he always was, his old traveling buddy came around–I hope–before it was too late.

All we can do is enjoy it

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It embarrasses me to admit this, but the first time I ever flew in an airplane happened when I was 21 years old. I was a senior in college, and my girlfriend wanted me to come visit her in New Mexico over the holidays.

The first time I flew was out of the Capital airport in Springfield, Illinois. As the plane took off and climbed into the sky, I was struck by all of the cornfields that ringed the airport. My decision to leave Springfield and begin my life somewhere else–anywhere else, really–had already been made by then, but the cornfield with an airport in the middle of it served to confirm the choice. I doubt that I’ll ever fly into or out of that airport again.

When that plane landed at O’Hare in Chicago, I made my connecting flight and buckled in at my window seat. As the plane took off, I focused my attention on the engine that was attached to the wing. For a split second, I wondered what I would do if the engine somehow fell off of the wing. The plane continued its ascent, as I looked around for an exit that would allow me to break free if I needed to. But the feeling didn’t last more than a few seconds.

My fatalistic streak immediately took over, and reminded my worried inner self that if that happened, there wouldn’t be a thing I could do about it. It would be my time to die–or maybe to live if I got real lucky–but it was out of my hands, entirely. I sat back, ashamed that I had allowed myself to worry about something so outlandish, and enjoyed the rest of the flight. I’ve flown many, many times since then, and never once have I worried about a plane crash.

I say all this because everybody on this earth has an end date, a final act, a last go-round. I have one, you have one, and the next person that you will speak to does, too. We’re all mortal, and the end can come forty years from now, or it can come before the sun rises tomorrow morning. The sudden death of Richard Durrett, a sportswriter in Dallas, makes this point better than I ever could. Durrett’s death yesterday of a brain aneurysm–his cause of death is missing from many of the announcements I’ve read–is shocking because it happened when he was just 38 years old.

A guy in his late 30s expects to live a few more decades, at least. If anything, the dreaded 40 is looming off in the distance, and makes its presence known with a great big thud on the 39th birthday. Nobody looks forward to turning 40 because everyone–on either side of that age–gets to razz you about the fact that you’re getting old.

Jimmy Buffett’s song “A Pirate looks at Forty” is well-named because, even though the number 40 does not appear in the song’s lyrics, it’s a number just big enough to get us thinking about where we’ve been in life, and to wonder about what the future still holds. Richard Durrett was denied even this little bit of introspection, because 40 is not promised to any of us. Many of us live to see it, but that doesn’t mean everyone will.

It seems, from all of the tweets I’ve been reading, that Richard Durrett was a great guy. I’m sure that his passing leaves family, friends, colleagues, and people who never knew of him before wondering what the hell happened. And there really isn’t a good explanation to be offered, other than that life is a fleeting and unknowable gift. We take the good, and we ride out the bad, for as long as we’re able to do so. And then–in a time and place that we never get to know about in advance–it’s all over. Just like that. It’s harsh and terrible, but it’s the one real certainty that life offers.

I think about the Father’s day that just happened over the past weekend. I’m quite certain that Richard Durrett and his family had no expectation that it would be his last one. But that engine can fall off the airplane at any time, and when it does (because there is no if about it) it’s best if we remembered to enjoy as much as we could along the way.

Singing in the Square

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I can’t think of too many more beautiful sights than watching the sunset in Key West. And Mallory Square is the one place where everyone goes to see the show. I first learned this from watching the buddy cop movie Running Scared in the 1980s, and a week ago I finally got to experience it for myself. I hope that everyone reading this will have a chance to do so at some point in their future.

My brother-in-law and I had spent the day walking up and down Duval Street and soaking up the Key West vibe. We smoked cigars (much to our daughters’ chagrin) and marveled at our good fortunes to be in such a beautiful place. As the sun was beginning to set, we made our way to the square for the sunset celebration (and that is exactly what they call it).

A number of buskers and street performers add a carnival-like atmosphere to the celebration. As my brother-in-law and I were looking for a place to watch, we heard an elderly calypso singer asking for volunteers. We decided to answer the call, with the knowledge that he would have rather had two pretty girls volunteer, instead. And there sure are enough of them in Mallory Square, too.

To his credit, the singer indicated that he’d work with any volunteers he could get, and two small children–one boy of about five, and one girl of about seven–also volunteered, along with one other middle-aged guy who might have been their father. He positioned his background singers around a microphone, and told us we would be singing along to “Day O,” which was made famous by Harry Belafonte. We sang the “daylight come and me wan’ go home” line, and so far as I know we did a good job. There was no shortage of people photographing and videotaping the performance, and being a part of it pushed the experience to a whole new level.

When it was finished, we thanked the singer and moved on to watch the sun finally go down. Our family was elsewhere and didn’t get to see our performance, but that’s all right. The carnival goes on with different players every night, and no two sunsets can ever be the same. So long as people appreciate nature’s beauty, and want to experience it in the company of others, there will be songs to sing in Mallory Square.

And the lady she hails from Trinidad

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Flying back home from a week in the Florida Keys was not something that I wanted to do, but the bills that will come in the mail someday must be paid. And while my two children could spend all their days on Duval Street, their teachers here in Chicago might eventually hold it against them.

On the first flight of the day, from Miami to Nashville, I had the pleasure of sitting next to an elegant lady from Trinidad. She was meeting up with a family member in the airport in Nashville, for a drive back to Alabama. I found her Caribbean accent to be fascinating, as well as her stories of traveling throughout the region with her recently-deceased husband.

I learned that she had been married for more than fifty years, and I complimented her on such a long partnership with another person. I’ve been married a little bit more than 20 years myself, and I realize that I’m far head of most marriages, statistically. But meeting someone who had fifty-plus years–and took that “until death” part to its intended conclusion–was very humbling for me.

I told my new traveling friend that I had first heard of Trinidad when one of the Miss Universe winners came from there many years ago. She informed me that there have been others from her native land that have also done well in this competition, and I understood that this speaks very well of the nation and its people.

We talked of the recent spate of bad news for travelers on the Malaysian plane, and the South Korean ferry, and even the unexpected deaths of climbers on Mount Everest. We discussed how traveling is usually very safe, but there will always be risks involved with traveling from one place to another. It may not have been an uplifting topic to discuss at 30,000 feet, but still I enjoyed our conversation a great deal.

Near the end of our flight, I pointed out that I had heard of Trinidad–without Tobago–in a Jimmy Buffett song called “Son of a Son of a Sailor.” I had listened to heavy doses of his music as I was in the Florida Keys, between the Margaritaville channel on the rental car’s satellite radio and the CDs that I had brought along on the trip. The Florida keys were clearly an inspiration to him through the years, and his music had formed a perfect backdrop for my trip. I reminded myself that I was actually speaking with a lady who hailed from Trinidad, and it seemed like a perfect way to end my trip.

The lady who hailed from Trinidad–and I already regret not learning her name, even though I would not use it here if I knew it–informed me that her island was not, as Jimmy Buffett had claimed in his song, the “island of the spices.” She told me that Grenada, a neighboring island, is actually known at the Spice island. I chuckled at the creative license that had been taken with the song, and knew right away it was too good of a story to keep inside of my head forever. I write a blog, after all, in the hope that my stories and thoughts can manifest themselves in a format that will survive longer than I do.

We said our goodbyes as the plane landed, and the lady who hailed from Trinidad told me that I should come and see her country one day. She said I would love it there, for all of its beauty and warmth and history. And I’m sure that I would, too. I wished her the best in her travels throughout my home country, and I hope that she experiences nothing but good things during her time here.

NOTE: If I’m going to mention creative license here, I had better be prepared to acknowledge taking some myself. The picture above was not taken in Trinidad (as I’ve never been there), nor does it depict any place in the Caribbean. I took it on the island of Dry Tortugas in the Gulf of Mexico, which is more than 1,500 miles from Trinidad. But if Jimmy Buffett can take some creative license, I suppose that I can, too. And it’s a pretty picture, so why not?